April 4, 2005

Florida's HB 837/SB 2126 news

In the Florida House tomorrow, the Education Council will be hearing from David Horowitz as a witness, invited by Council chair Dennis Bexley (R-Ocala), who is also the sponsor of HB 837. But I expect that Bexley will be politic enough to let several faculty representatives speak, including the head of the AAUP Florida Conference (whose name I don't know—used to be David Kerr at St. Petersburg College, but I don't think David is still an officer), Florida Education Association Higher Ed Director Roy Weatherford (University of South Florida), and United Faculty of Florida President Tom Auxter (University of Florida). I assume that the council of state faculty senate presidents is also opposing the bill, though I don't know if they're sending a representative tomorrow. Unfortunately, I do not know of any college or university administration that is openly opposing the bill. Technically, it's a forum rather than a debate over the bill. But I expect some media coverage (though it may be swallowed up by the pope's funeral preparations in Rome).

The meeting materials have the typical slew of articles selected by Horowitz and committee staff, with only one piece in opposition (a newspaper editorial). But there will be plenty of argumentation against it. The United Faculty of Florida Senate officially declared its opposition over the weekend (I was happy to be the main sponsor), and even the staff analysis in the House suggests its effects: $4.2 million in lawyers' salaries, because each campus will have to hire one extra lawyer just to deal with the consequences of a bill that puts the phrase "rights" into state law, or legal standing to sue over the content of what's taught in a classroom (as opposed to the standing to sue over discriminatory treatment, something already existing in Florida law). My friend Greg McColm calls it the lawyers' welfare bill (at the same time that many legislators are calling for tort reform).

Some of the things that students might demand and that, according to the plain reading of the law, could be required to be presented:

  1. Flat-earth views in a physics class
  2. Creationism in a biology class
  3. Holocaust denial in a 20th-century European history class
  4. NAMBLA materials in a social-work class

One of the more whimsical arguments I heard over the weekend is that the consequence of this bill could be the following: if a biologist is required to present creationism theory, then he or she is teaching religion, outside his or her area of expertise. That violates accreditation standards.

If you live outside Florida, you can help us by making two contacts, e-mailing Florida House Speaker Allen Bense (or calling his House office at 850.488.1450) and Tom Lee (Senate office 850.487.5229). As usual with legislators, be polite and explain the reputational problems this would cause for recruiting faculty and the competitive disadvantage in addition to the core issue of academic freedom.

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Posted in Academic freedom on April 4, 2005 7:03 PM |