OPINION: Florida's new law changes the game for conservative college students
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill June 22 that requires public universities to maintain a free speech climate on campus.
The new law also protects conservatives from being bullied out of student governments without recourse.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three new education bills into law yesterday, but the one with the least media fanfare is likely to have the greatest impact on the state's college students.
House Bill 233, which takes effect on July 1, tells Florida public college students three things:
1. They are not entitled to a safe space. Their university, by law, "may not shield" them from free speech activities conducted on campus by other students, faculty, or staff. If they went to a public university in Florida to be coddled, they are going to be sorely disappointed. If they want a bubble that protects them from opposing ideas, go elsewhere.
2. Student government cannot kick someone out because they're conservative. If a student government wants to boot a student leader for any reason, that student has the right to appeal; they cannot be ousted by a 'heckler's veto'. The law does not apply only to conservatives; it applies to everyone. But the target of the bill is hard to miss.
Liberal students habitually force their conservative peers out of student government positions and punishment for having opposing views. Campus Reform has seen this happen at the University of Connecticut, where the student government delivered a vote of no confidence to their president because he supported a free speech rule. At Arizona State University, conservative candidates for student government were harassed by anonymous social media accounts over their views. Florida's law now gives students facing similar discrimination the ability to state their case rather than being kicked out without recourse.
3. Every year, schools must ask how comfortable students feel speaking freely on campus. The law now requires every state college to administer a survey of students and faculty that asks them about the free speech climate at their school.
This mimics closely the campus climate surveys used by school administrators to measure the extent to which students say they have experienced racism and sexism on campus, and in many cases, justify university administrators intervening in conversations that happen between students.
The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state's public higher education system, will publish the results of these surveys annually. Colleges get a report card on free speech, and students and parents will see who does and does not make the grade.
Florida's new law proves that standing up for free speech does not require inserting government into every interaction; in fact, free speech can thrive when government and school administrators are impartial observers of student speech, not activists in their own right.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito