Home > Essays > FL Governor DeSantis’ Chilling Enforcement of “Free Speech” Shows GOP’s Comfort With Totalitarian Mindset, Willingness to Deploy Video Surveillance to Ensure Compliance

FL Governor DeSantis’ Chilling Enforcement of “Free Speech” Shows GOP’s Comfort With Totalitarian Mindset, Willingness to Deploy Video Surveillance to Ensure Compliance

June 27, 2021

Common Dreams writer Julia Conley posted an article yesterday describing a horrific new bill FL Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law that mandates the collection of survey AND allows for the collection of video data on college professors. The overview of the bill is described in this way: 

DeSantis on Tuesday signed House Bill 233 into law, requiring more than three dozen public colleges and universities in Florida to conduct yearly surveys of their students’ and faculty members’ beliefs to determine the institutions’ levels of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.

The state university system and board of education will be tasked with creating the surveys, which will ask whether campus community members “feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints.”

…At a news conference on Tuesday, DeSantis said his government could intervene if it finds universities to be “hotbeds for stale ideology“—without specifying what that ideology might be—and suggesting funding cuts could ensue.

“That’s not worth tax dollars and not something we’re going to be supporting moving forward,” the governor said.

The law does not ensure that surveys will be taken anonymously, raising concerns that faculty members could also face retaliation if they express progressive views or share that they would not welcome certain viewpoints—for example, discriminatory or abusive comments directed at a student—in their classrooms.

Under the law, students will also be permitted to record professors without their consent “in connection with a complaint,” according to the Chronicle. 

This description raises many questions and waves multiple red flags:

  • What is the metric for “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity”? 
  • Is a professor offering instruction illustrating the elements of systemic racism going to be allowed to do so freely? Is a professor who addresses students using their gender preferences exhibiting “viewpoint diversity?”
  • What will the benchmark be for freedom to express beliefs? If 5% of the students feel stifled in their speech will the professor be marked down? Will it matter if the 5% who feel stifled hold onto “stale ideology”?
  • What IS “stale ideology?” Is it the ideology of the 1956 GOP platform that Bernie Sanders embraces? The trickle-down theory of economics that Reagan promoted? Q-Anon’s conspiracy theories? 
  • Who defines “stale ideology“? 
  • If the surveys are not taken anonymously, will students with “stale ideology” who speak out against professors who allow only conservative perspectives in their classroom be singled out for retribution? 
  • If students can surveil teachers, who will receive their videos? Who will adjudicate the “evidence” presented on the video? What rights does the teacher leave at the schoolhouse door? 

It is not hard to conceive of future legislation that requires the installation of video cameras in each classroom to provide “objective” capture of the lessons and teams of thought police monitoring the videos to make certain “stale ideology” is not being promoted. 

It is also chilling to think that Ron DeSantis is being touted as the future leader of the GOP. His comfort with the legislating and monitoring of ideology does not bode well for democracy. 

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