Ron DeSantis Just Checking That Florida College Students Aren’t Getting Infected With ‘Commie’

Culture Wars

Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday that would make Joseph McCarthy blush. The bill is part of DeSantis's push against what he imagines is the “indoctrination" of students on college campuses. It will require that public universities and colleges “survey" students, faculty, and staff on their beliefs and viewpoints, all in the interest of “intellectual diversity," of course. This snooping will determine "the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented" and whether students, faculty and staff "feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom."

DeSantis said:

It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you'd be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.

This argument is obviously disingenuous, as Florida's State Board of Education, under DeSantis's direction, recently banned schools from teaching lessons built around critical race theory and The 1619 Project. Of course, CRT was only taught at the post-graduate level and The 1619 Project represents one of those “different ideas" that DeSantis claims is so important.


The measure goes into effect July 1, and although it's not fully transparent what will happen to the survey results, DeSantis and GOP state Senator Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the bill, suggested institutions could face budget cuts if it's determined that they are "indoctrinating" students.

"That's not worth tax dollars and that's not something that we're going to be supporting moving forward," DeSantis said at a press conference at a middle school in Fort Myers.

What exactly determines “indoctrination" is appallingly unclear. If a university has multiple professors teaching American history from a distinct perspective, is that sufficient "intellectual diversity"? Or will a professor risk losing their job if they dare suggest slavery and racism were connected somehow?

One of my political science professors in college railed against Richard Nixon, who he believed was the worst president ever (this was obviously prior to George W. Bush and Donald Trump). I'm not sure even the Young Republicans in my class felt like he was “indoctrinating" them because there was once bipartisan consensus that “covering up an illegal break-in" was a bad thing. But now most conservatives have bought into Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election. There's no longer a shared objective reality. This makes teaching history especially perilous.

University faculty members are rightly concerned this measure will have a chilling effect on their freedom of speech, and it's not paranoid to assume that's the point. The bill permits young Charlie Kirks in every class to record professors without their consent and file whiny complaints. Democratic lawmakers argue the legislation is a way for (rightwing) politicians to regulate speech on campus, which conservatives have accused liberals of doing for the past several decades. (It's only and always projection.)

DeSantis can't even clearly describe the exact problem he was supposedly solving. He's said, without offering specific examples, that he “knows a lot of parents" who fear colleges will “indoctrinate" their kids when they leave home. What nervous conservative white people call “indoctrination," we might call “growing the fuck up." Yes, I knew people from small rural towns who came to college as conservatives but graduated as liberals. But that's not because the university brainwashed them or promoted “orthodoxies." Their views were challenged. Their perspectives were expanded. They LEARNED THINGS. All of that is good!

Of course, learning things is a slippery slope to going to college conservative and graduating liberal.

It's perhaps not a coincidence the right is stressing about liberal “indoctrination" at colleges. Just 20 years ago, Republicans held an 11-point advantage among college-educated voters. This became a four-point edge for Democrats by the time Barack Obama was president. Once Trump left office, 53 percent of college-educated voters identified as Democrats, compared to 40 percent who identified as Republicans. This shift is especially stark among white college-educated voters, who helped Joe Biden defeat Trump and preserve what remained of our democracy.

This measure seems crazy illegal and perhaps won't hold up in court, but DeSantis probably doesn't care. He eagerly fights every battle in America's endless culture war. Washington Post columnist Max Boot declared DeSantis “the winner of 'The Apprentice: Culture Warfare Edition,'" boasting a "genius for appealing to every disreputable prejudice of the GOP base." He's a far more successful demagogue than governor, but unfortunately that still reaps dividends within the Republican Party.

[Tampa Bay Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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