Welcome to DeSantistan
In his 2022 State of the State address, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stated, “Together we have made Florida the freest state in these United States.” He added that the state, “has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.”
While these statements were about COVID-19 restrictions, DeSantis and his compatriots apparently have no problems leveraging the power of the state to stop the spread of ideas.
The DeSantis administration has made a habit of attempting to limit free speech. They revoked Disney’s authority to self-govern the Reedy Creek Improvement District for speaking out against the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. They’ve moved to ban books from public school libraries. The “Stop Woke Act” would prevent educators from discussing many topics related to race and gender. Their most recent assault on free speech comes in the form of HB 999, which amounts to a wholesale attack on academic freedom.
Mr. DeSantis claims the changes in this bill are necessary to prevent the indoctrination of students into a certain political ideology, arguing Florida’s universities should, “focus on promoting academic excellence, the pursuit of truth, and to give students the foundation to think for themselves.”
But this law promotes just the opposite. HB 999 is bursting with restrictions and requirements that suppress ideas. It calls for removing some majors and minors and prevents certain topics from being taught in general education courses.
It requires general education courses to, “promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization.” It prevents teaching American history perspectives that are, “contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
For someone claiming to be against indoctrination, requiring faculty to teach a singular historical perspective and banning alternatives seems an odd choice. Moreover, threatening faculty with revocation of tenure for not towing the party line reads more like a totalitarian regime than the Founding Fathers.
HB 999 also egregiously misrepresents the higher education system, infringing not only on faculty’s academic freedom, but on students’ freedom to learn. Those pushing this bill seem to think that students are incapable of independent thought and are brainwashed into leftist activism by professors carrying the Communist Manifesto.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
General education curriculum in colleges introduces a broad array of different topics and perspectives and focuses on teaching critical thinking. Students are required to choose a certain number of courses in areas like social science, humanities, etc. No one is forcing Florida’s college students to learn about gender studies or critical race theory. If they do, they are not forced to embrace it.
Rather than promote academic excellence, the pursuit of truth, or provide students with critical thinking skills, HB 999 is intended to indoctrinate students with the administration’s preferred ideology.
The marketplace of ideas is contentious and critical. Using the power of the state to silence the opposition, however, is not competition. It is antithetical to learning and undermines the foundations of a free society.
Saying HB 999 prevents indoctrination is classic Orwellian doublespeak. Assuming Florida lawmakers haven’t banned it already, perhaps they should revisit a copy of George Orwell’s 1984. It was meant to be a warning, not a guidebook.
For someone who just published a book entitled, “The Courage to be Free,” the governor seems to be very afraid of extending that freedom to others. They call it “Free State of Florida,” but what they really mean is the Republic of DeSantistan.
Michael A. Coon is an Associate Professor in Economics at the University of Tampa.
Abigail R. Hall is an Associate Professors in Economics at the University of Tampa.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Welcome to DeSantistan