‘Diversity is our strength’: Rep. Hinson pushes bill countering higher education changes

Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson and United Faculty of Florida (UFF) members hold press conference at the state Capitol
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 5:42 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCJB/NSF) - In an effort to support academic independence, a Democratic lawmaker from North Central Florida is filing a bill that would undo Republican-backed changes to higher education.

Rep. Yvonne Hayes-Hinson of Gainesville held a press conference on Monday with members of the United Faculty of Florida. She promoted House Bill 311 “Postsecondary Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity.”

The bill would eliminate state viewpoint diversity assessments, remove the prohibition against shielding specified individuals from free speech, and prevent students from recording class lectures without the permission of professors.

“I have been a teacher all my life,” said Hinson. “I was a principal 14 years. I know the value education has and I know our society is better when all people, especially experts in their fields, are allowed to speak without limitations or intimidation.”

Hinson says her bill is opposed to House Bill 999. The bill, sponsored by Republicans, would change the tenure review process for professors by giving state-appointed the ability to intervene. Republican lawmakers have argued, universities discriminate against conservative viewpoints and push a left-wing agenda.

“These bills effectively eliminate DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and other types of discriminatory programs and activities, But it also prohibits soliciting pledges of DEI or CRT (critical race theory) or any political viewpoint that’s a condition of hiring, promotion or admissions,” DeSantis said in March.

HB 999 would require the state university system’s Board of Governors to “periodically review the mission” of each university, a process that would involve an examination of academic programs. The board would direct universities to “remove from its programs any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with critical theory” — a concept that the bill attempts to flesh out.

“My bill supports faculty and students of color, supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, supports freedom of speech. Diversity is our strength. Our state boasts some of the top research universities in the nation. These researchers’ interests are not the state’s interests just because they say ‘Go Gators’ or ‘Go Noles’ or ‘Go Knights,’” said Hinson.

During the press conference, Hinson lays out her timeline of state government overreach into public universities. She focused heavily on the University of Florida, explaining the controversy surrounding UF’s conflict of interest policy. It prevented university employees from testifying in court cases involving the State of Florida regarding issues like voting rights and COVID-19.

“The University, nor any of its faculty could act, or even appear to act, independently,” explained Hinson about the conflict of interest policy. “That is a unique precedent, and that is a dangerous precedent, because we expect our professors, our research experts, to tell us the truth and act independently.”

The conflict of interest policy was changed after significant pushback from staff and the public. Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 20 ordered the dismissal of a case professors brought against the university because it is now “moot.”

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