As announced in the 1 July 2021 UFF USF Biweekly, the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (representing the employees of the UFF USF Bargaining Unit) and the USF Administration (representing the USF Board of Trustees) will start bargaining this coming Friday. The bargaining session will be on Friday, July 9, starting at 2 pm, in the second floor of the Services building, in the Human Resources Training Room, SVC 2170. The session is open to the public and all UFF USF employees are invited to observe.
"A decade of political interference," reported The Chronicle of Higher Education, "has reshaped the way colleges are run." Sometimes, as in Florida, that interference comes directly from the Legislature.
The announced goal of House Bill 233 is to defend "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity." (Considering Tallahassee's reaction to critical race theory - which seems to be a little too free and diverse for some politicians - this concern may not be entirely sincere.) The bill created two mechanisms for assessing freedom and diversity, which suggests that the Legislature may return to the issue at some future date once that assessment is made.
One mechanism empowers students to record class lectures by amending Florida Statute 934.03 on Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications. Students may not "publish" said recording (e.g. post on YouTube) without the teacher's consent, but they can use it in litigation.
Several lawyers have fastened on a glitch in the bill. HB 233 does not empower students to record other students in class without their permission (except that a disabled student - authorized by Student Accessibility Services - may make recordings for their own use). So a student recording a class must press STOP whenever another student is talking; thus the recording student must repeatedly press the RECORD and STOP buttons. Otherwise the student has recorded fellow students without their permission (a possible violation of state law) during classroom activities (a possible violation of federal law). So while it is feasible for a student to record a lecture on climate change, it probably isn't feasible to record a seminar discussion on critical race theory.
The second mechanism is an annual survey of "the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" at that institution. The State Board of Education is to compose a survey - apparently the same survey for all colleges and universities - that is " objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid." But HB 233 does not say anything about what questions will be asked, whether anyone is required to participate, or whether the survey will be anonymous. So Politifact asked and was told that the survey will not ask for political beliefs but only whether respondents feel free to express their views in class, and it will be voluntary. There was a hint that it might be anonymous. Politifact was sufficiently impressed by the apparent sincerity of the responses to rule the statement that HB 233 will require "students, faculty and staff at Florida’s public universities and colleges to register their political views" to be False.
The ambiguity about anonymity is disturbing in two ways. First, will there be any way to determine that X's answer to question Y was Z? This is what anonymity usually means, and the survey probably would assure anonymity in order to obtain candid responses. (At this point, readers of a certain age may recall Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko's advice to lie to exit pollsters.) But there is also the question of whether participation itself is anonymous. We would hope that it would be entirely anonymous, in order to protect wary faculty (and so that the Administration would not be able to report the relative levels of participation by different units).
There is the question of what the Legislature is thinking of doing with this data. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Governor Ron DeSantis and State Senator Ray Rodrigues of Lee County (the author of a related bill folded into HB 233) "suggested on Tuesday that budget cuts could be looming if universities and colleges are found to be 'indoctrinating' students," and quoted the Governor saying, "That's not worth tax dollars and that's not something that we're going to be supporting moving forward." Of course, the Governor might not follow through and sabotage Florida's economy by undercutting higher education. After all, if this is political theatre, it is more likely that the data would be used to launch legislative investigations (complete with live streaming and generous expense accounts for hardworking legislators). After all, Florida's legislature has done that before.
Still, on a possibly reassuring note, HB 233 adds to the list of "expressive activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the State Constitution in Statute 1004.097(3)(a)" the items "faculty research, lectures, writings, and commentary, whether published or unpublished"; yes, and many thanx to UFF and FEA staff and members who nagged - er, lobbied - legislators into inserting this language.
On the other hand, on a disconcerting note, the survey will also go to students. Some students are underage and may find the survey invasive and frightening.
UFF is now studying the legal ramifications of this bill and exploring options. Meanwhile, we are watching this can of worms very closely to see what kind of critter emerges. And one thing this episode shows is the need for ... educating ... legislators. If you are interested in educating legislators, contact the Chapter Secretary.
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Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.
Next Chapter Meeting Friday, July 16, at 12 noon, via Zoom: for an invitation, contact the Chapter Secretary.
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