Truth or Satire: “DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state”

Dan Heller
5 min readJun 24, 2021

Bad Journalism Makes for Great Clickbait

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The headlines making the rounds throughout all of media — social and otherwise — is the one from, “DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state.”

Truth or Satire? Neither! It’s not true, nor is it intended to be satirical. It’s just plain bad journalism.

But what’s hilarious (in a sardonic way) is how mangled the press and social media is reacting to this. Twitter is abuzz, and reddit has thousands of people talking about it. No matter where you look, from the right to the left to the journalists in the middle, almost no one is actually mentioning what’s inside the bill itself, and instead, spinning it in whatever political direction that suits them.

Salon’s article begins with a blatant lie:

Public universities in Florida will be required to survey both faculty and students on their political beliefs and viewpoints, with the institutions at risk of losing their funding if the responses are not satisfactory to the state’s Republican-led legislature.

That’s just not true. The bill itself — PDF here — says this:

The State Board of Education shall select or create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.

So, no, students and teachers are not being asked to declare their political beliefs or their affiliations, nor state the views or anything else. They’re only asked whether they feel free to express themselves. It’s not even required that anyone even complete the survey — only that institutions administer it.

What people are rightly concerned about is why Republicans would draft such a bill in the first place, and what they would do with it. Remember, the “bill” doesn’t specify anything other than some mechanical actions and definition of terms— it’s the interpretation of outcomes that is subject to partisan actions.

Conservatives have been complaining for years that they’re being censored by social media and shut out of academic circles because of their views. There have been many actions taken against those who express overtly hateful speech, promoting irrational conspiracy theories, and advocating unfounded views on health, climate and other areas of science. This bill — and others like it in other red-leaning states — are really intended to protect their views from being shut down “just because it makes people uncomfortable.”

In fact, that very provision is part of the bill’s language:

“Shield” means to limit students’, faculty members’, or staff members’ access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.[…] The State Board of Education may not shield students, faculty, or staff at Florida College System institutions from free speech protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Art. I of the State Constitution, or s.1004.097.

The transparent objective here is for conservatives to use this language to safeguard the teaching of conservative views, plain and simple. DeSantis said,

“We do not want [universities] as basically hotbeds for stale ideology. 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.”

The bill does not specifically say what will be done with survey results, but DeSantis suggested budget cuts could be imminent if universities and colleges are found to be “indoctrinating” students.

And there you have it. The bill plays no role in this, other than to require universities to administer surveys. So, why introduce an essentially empty bill, but amp up the rhetoric to extreme proportions?

Messaging, pure and simple. DeSantis is feeding the political equivalent of crack cocaine to his base voters in two ways: First, they’re giddy when he signs a bill that he claims will curb socialist teachings in schools, and second, by angering liberals, which also makes conservatives giddy. It’s a two-fer!

To truly understand this strategy and to understand the role that “critical race theory” is playing in politics today, see the article, What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?

So, let’s be clear on where the real problem is: It’s not the bill itself, it’s the fact that Republicans need a strawman to hoist up and say, “it’s evil, kill it!”

If you’re not convinced, let’s wave the magic wand and say that Florida was run by a woke progressive governor and the legislature was controlled by Democrats. This bill’s language could be used as a defense against all the Republican-led legislation in red states to push back against “critical race theory” being taught in schools (which it’s not). Recall that those Republican laws aim to “protect students from feeling uncomfortable because of their race,” which is code for saying that white kids shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because of our country’s history with slavery.

Here, the Florida law — as drafted — actually helps a professor that might want to incorporate legal and economic concepts underlying Critical Race Theory into their curriculum, because professors would be “shielded” from actions taken against them because some white kids said they felt badly.

So, let’s be clear about this bill: The language isn’t the problem. Who wields it is the concern. It gives ammunition to highly partisan actors to take action when they see something they don’t like.

The real problem with this bill is that it isn’t necessary at all. In a balanced, non-partisan, pre-TeaParty era, this bill (if it even passed) would be benign. But we don’t live in such a democracy right now.

The problem for conservatives is that they want to put their thumb — or rather, hand-pounding fist — on the scales and take away the things they don’t like. And this bill gives them the means by which to do that. Whether such attempts succeed is another story.

Taking action against a teacher or student or institution under the auspices of this bill would face a court challenge, but then again, as Republicans take over the courts, they could well succeed.