Last year, Florida enacted a law requiring an annual survey of students and employees at public universities to gauge the climate of intellectual diversity on their campuses. Some faculty members criticized the effort early on, calling it an attempt by Republican state lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis to bolster the claim that conservative students don’t feel welcome in halls. of class.
The results of the first survey are in, and one thing is clear: students weren’t very interested in filling it out.
Only 2.4% of the more than 364,000 students who received the survey completed it, a response rate so low it casts doubt on the results themselves. The employee response rate was slightly better: 9.4% of the more than 98,000 employees who received the survey participated, most of whom were staff members and not instructors.
The low response rate may not be entirely accidental. The United Faculty of Florida, the union representing faculty, called on students, instructors and staff to ignore the survey, saying it was not administered in good faith.
Indeed, DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have not been shy about sharing firmly held beliefs about college intellectual climates. At a 2021 inquiry bill signing ceremony, DeSantis called campuses “intellectually repressive environments.”
A 2% response rate means little meaningful can be learned from the survey results, said Amy Binder, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego. She said it was probably not representative of all students and she raised questions about the methodology.
The way the survey was advertised, she said, might have attracted a particular group of students. “Freedom of speech, diversity of views and revival concerns have really become a lighting issue for conservatives more than liberals. The people who would be more interested are conservative students, because they already see diversity of views as an issue on campus,” she said.
Lawmakers who sponsored the law requiring the investigation did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment. A spokesperson for the university system’s board of governors, which administered the investigation in April and reviewed its findings on Friday, said the investigation is the subject of ongoing litigation and board members are not could not discuss it.
According to the survey results, the vast majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their campus “provides an environment conducive to the free expression of ideas, opinions and beliefs”. Meanwhile, 3,913 agreed or strongly agreed that they “feel comfortable talking about controversial topics”, while 3,094 disagreed or strongly disagreed.
The survey asked for respondents’ race and gender, but did not ask for their political affiliation. Of the 8,800 respondents, 5,192 identified as white. Florida A&M University, a historically black university with an 82.9% black student body, had the lowest attendance rate among students: 0.6%.
Andrew Gothard, professor of English at Florida Atlantic University and president of the United Faculty of Florida, said it’s clear from the lack of respondents that Florida college students and staff aren’t concerned about the issue of intellectual diversity. (The union is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the legality of the investigation.)
“This is a Governor DeSantis fabricated fight,” he said. “This investigation was a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Gothard also pointed to technical problems with the survey: a person could respond to it more than once, he said, and there was no way to verify that a person who identified himself as student in the survey was actually a student.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” he said. “Any group could use this investigation to defund those who don’t reflect their political ideology at this time,” Gothard said.
Although the survey drew a mixed response from students, it may be a sign of things to come. Ray Rodrigues, a former Republican state senator who sponsored intellectual diversity legislation, is set to become the university system’s new chancellor. The search committee recommended him for the position on Friday. (His office did not respond to a the Chronicle request for comment on Monday.)
“We have a responsibility to teach students how to think for themselves rather than indoctrinate them on what to think,” Rodrigues said at the signing of the bill last year. “Without a measure of intellectual diversity, it is impossible to know whether Florida taxpayers are providing education or indoctrination.”