Florida Defends Intellectual Freedom on Campus

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The National Association of Scholars applauds Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for asking all of the Florida university system presidents to sign a resolution protecting free speech. Based on the Chicago Principles, the resolution commits universities to embrace free and open debate, and asks them not to “stifle the dissemination of any idea.” All twelve university presidents have signed the resolution.

Last year Florida passed the Campus Free Expression Act, which prohibits “free speech zones,” instead declaring all outdoor areas of campus a traditional public forum that can be regulated only with content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions.

This week on April 15th, speaking at Heritage Museum at Dodd Hall on the campus of Florida State University, Governor DeSantis called on all universities to protect the ability of invited speakers to speak. He criticized the behavior of hecklers who “scream down a speaker or shout down a speaker so they cannot articulate views.”

The governor also condemned colleges and universities that disinvite speakers, putting the blame squarely on college administrators’ own timidity. “I think that’s a sign of weakness on behalf of school administrators and I think it demonstrates a lack of commitment to the free exchange of ideas,” DeSantis said. “The role of the university is not to shield students from speech that makes them uncomfortable.”

The National Association of Scholars believes colleges and universities should dedicate themselves to the protection of intellectual freedom, the pursuit of truth, and the promotion of virtuous citizenship. We congratulate Governor DeSantis for taking this stand in defense of intellectual freedom, and we applaud the presidents of Florida’s public university system for signing this resolution.

Now it is time for Florida to live up to its commitment by eliminating restrictive speech codes, ending discrimination against religious and other student organizations that lack equal access to campus space and student activity fees, and ending the use of ideological litmus tests in hiring and promotion decisions. Governor DeSantis should ensure that no public universities in Florida ask candidates about their commitments to diversity, social justice, or other political topics.

“I applaud the governor’s stand on free speech,” said Marshall DeRosa, a Professor of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University and the head of the Florida Association of Scholars, a chapter of the National Association of Scholars. “However, if Florida’s universities are to be the ‘marketplace of ideas,’ there must be ideological diversity among faculty members. Unless that happens free speech on university campuses will merely be echo chambers of Leftwing claptrap."

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