Florida not requiring professors, students to register political views with the state

PolitiFact | A claim in a viral tweet from author Stephen King is deemed false.
Author Stephen King, seen at the 2018 PEN Literary Gala in New York.
Author Stephen King, seen at the 2018 PEN Literary Gala in New York. [ EVAN AGOSTINI | Evan Agostini/Invision/AP ]
Published July 8, 2022

Author and “King of Horror” Stephen King has had readers switching on the nightlight for six decades.

But on July 6, King took the fright to Twitter, warning his followers that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill “requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with (the) state.”

His claim copied the headline of a June 2021 article published by Salon (Salon has since changed its headline), and was echoed by others on Twitter in reference to Florida House Bill 233. The bill requires the states’ public colleges and universities to “conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,” using a survey developed by the State Board of Education or the Board of Governors.

The inaugural surveys were emailed to faculty and students in early April 2022. Copies of the surveys were sent to PolitiFact by Andrew Gothard, statewide president of the United Faculty of Florida and an instructor at Florida Atlantic University.

Related: Judge clears way for 'intellectual diversity' surveys at Florida colleges

The faculty survey has one question about participants’ political leanings (asking if people were conservative, moderate, liberal or none of the above), but the majority of the survey concerns the university’s cultivation of open political discourse and whether certain political viewpoints are discouraged or favored. The student survey has no questions on participants’ political beliefs. The survey begins with the disclaimer that it is both anonymous and “completely voluntary.”

Although many critics fear the new bill could limit free speech, the 2022 survey is not a required registration of political views as King claimed. PolitiFact reached out to King’s team for comment but received no response.

What is House Bill 233?

House Bill 233 was one of three education bills DeSantis signed into law on June 22, 2021. After banning the teaching of “critical race theory” a few weeks prior, DeSantis said he saw the bill as an opportunity to protect free speech and promote “intellectual diversity” on college campuses.

“The goal of this legislation is to ensure that no one feels as though a political ideology is being forced on them in higher education, from any angle,” said Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, “The college campus is supposed to be a place to freely discuss ideas, weigh them against one another, and draw informed conclusions. It is not supposed to be an indoctrination camp pushing any singular ideology.”

Related: Five things to know about Florida's new 'intellectual diversity' law

The bill requires “an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

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The 2022 survey, the first of its kind, asked students and faculty how they agree or disagree with a number of statements about the educational environment on campus. Here are a few examples from the student survey:

  • My college or university campus provides an environment for free expression of ideas, opinions, and beliefs.
  • My professors or course instructors use class time to express their own social or political beliefs without objectively discussing opposing social or political beliefs.
  • I feel comfortable speaking up and giving my views on controversial topics.
  • I have felt intimidated to share my ideas or political opinions because they were different from those of my professors.

And from the faculty survey:

  • Students in my classes are exposed to competing arguments and multiple perspectives on a topic.
  • Students at my institution are not shielded from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.
  • An expectation of receiving continuing contract/tenure is that faculty ascribe to a particular political viewpoint.
  • My institution encourages research, publications, dissertations, etc. on topics that span both liberal and conservative viewpoints.

If participants disagree with certain statements, they are asked which views are favored — conservative or liberal. The survey ends with a series of identity questions on race, gender and position at the university.

Although the 2022 survey was anonymous and voluntary, the bill’s language does not require such criteria. The open-ended language led to speculation after its signing about whether faculty and students would be required to share their political affiliation. Based on statements from the Florida Department of Education, PolitiFact found a similar claim to be False in 2021.

Critics of the bill, like Gothard of the United Faculty of Florida, see the legislation as an attempt to “chill the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to privacy among all the Florida students, higher education students, faculty, and staff.”

Gothard also expressed concern that if future survey results are not anonymous, they could be used against faculty. The United Faculty of Florida, the higher education branch of the Florida Education Association, is challenging the bill’s legality in federal court.

Pushaw told PolitiFact that the administration wants the survey to remain anonymous and voluntary.

“That’s the best way to understand how respondents really feel,” she said. “If some people don’t want to take the survey for whatever reason, that’s their prerogative.”

Our ruling

King claimed DeSantis signed a bill “requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with (the) state.”

Florida House Bill 233 requires an assessment of the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at state colleges and universities. Although not stipulated in the bill, the 2022 survey was anonymous and voluntary. Only the faculty survey had a question pertaining to individual political beliefs.

It remains to be seen whether future surveys will change, but DeSantis’ press secretary said the administration’s goal is to keep the survey anonymous and voluntary.

We rate King’s statement False.