‘A political weapon’: UF community left divided on how to navigate Florida’s new ‘Stop WOKE’ law

Jeffrey Adler, a UF history professor, is an expert on awkward conversations — conversations that could be banned under a new state law.

“My classes are about the history of the criminal justice system and race in American history,” Adler said. “It’s hard to discuss that without raising issues that are likely to make everyone in the room uncomfortable in some way.”

House Bill 7, dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” by Governor Ron Desantis, went into effect on July 1, 2022. The law is an expansion of Florida Statute Section 760.10, which now includes language that prohibits certain material from being taught in US universities. Florida State University System.

Material includes anything that “advocates, promotes, promotes, inculcates, or compels [students] believe” a list of concepts, including the idea that a person is inherently racist or sexist, as well as the claim that some people are privileged or oppressed.

The law follows a nationwide controversy over critical race theory, a discipline often found in higher education that seeks to explain how prejudice and racism are systemic within the legal field according to the Legal Defense Fund.

UF administration has not been transparent with faculty about how complaints will be handled and what constitutes a violation, Adler said. He now worries that the law will become a “political weapon.”

Under the law, violation complaints are student-driven, Adler said, meaning students are the ones filing complaints against instructors.

To file a complaint, a student must enter their UFID, the basis for the complaint, witnesses and desired outcome, according to the Director of Diversity’s website.

In the event of a substantiated complaint, the website states that the Board of Governors will be reported and potentially disciplinary action, such as dismissal of a faculty member, will be taken. If proven violations are found against the UF, it could lose performance funding for the next fiscal year.

In Adler’s three decades of teaching, no student has compared the course material to indoctrination.

“I don’t have much faith given how poorly written the law is and how opaque the process is,” Adler said. “The problem is that the law, and not necessarily the university, basically sets people up to find violations, and violations are not defined.”

In a statement, UF spokeswoman Cynthia Roldan said UF will follow the new state law.

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“We trust that the university will adhere to the law and provide students with the opportunity to be exposed to a full spectrum of ideas, opinions and beliefs.”

Since its adoption, students and teachers have raised concerns about the law.

Aron Ali-McClory, president of the UF Young Socialist Democrats and a sophomore studying political science, called the law a ploy by Desantis.

“Just judging from the title, I knew right away that it was just another element in the culture war for DeSantis to pitch as fodder for his base,” he said, “My reaction was disbelief because he’s just pitching something that doesn’t work. to help anyone. It’s going to hurt education.”

Ali-McClory added that she has heard from classmates about professors raising their level of caution when approaching topics like critical race theory, and the UF administration’s record with academic freedom will only get worse, citing the earlier denial. of UF to allow professors to testify against the state.

“The Republican Party of Florida wants to destroy education. If they have an uneducated voter base, it’s easier for them to get people to buy their lies and misinformation,” he said. “With the passage of this law, I think there will be more of a crackdown on intellectual diversity, which is funny because that’s exactly what Desantis says he doesn’t want.”

Jackson Rowell, vice president of public relations for UF Young Americans for Freedom, wrote in a statement that HB 7 is crucial to defending democracy. He said that critical race theory was “damaging to the fabric of our republic.”

Roberto Zaldaña-Argüello, a 22-year-old computer engineer from UF, said the bill promotes freedom of expression and diversity of thought.

“If you are in an echo chamber your whole life and you are brought up to believe that one side of the political aisle is reprehensible, it is absolutely destructive,” Zaldaña-Argüello said.

Jerry Edwards, a 31-year-old staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he thinks professors need to be careful when approaching certain topics.

Because of the student-driven complaint process, he said it would be fairly easy for students with bad intentions to take a teacher out of context and get them into trouble.

While the legislation is unique in terms of its application to college students, Edwards believes there has been a national effort within the legislation on the issue of critical race theory. College students have more free speech protections than K-12 students because of the expectation of broader, more mature discussions, she said.

The ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida over the law in August. On Thursday, a federal judge blocked parts of the law related to limitations on the use of diversity and sensitivity training by private employers.

Less than a month after HB 7 became law, UF also sent out a survey titled “Intellectual Freedom and Diversity of Viewpoints” on behalf of the Florida Board of Governors. He asked students and professors a series of questions about intellectual freedom in universities.

With an overall response rate of 2% at Florida public universities, UF’s student response rate was 4.2% or 2,722 students out of 64,846, according to survey results. Critics of the survey claimed that it was an attempt to assess how politics played out in the classroom, including questions such as “My teachers are generally more (conservative, liberal, other, or don’t know)”.

The Board of Governors is currently adopting guidelines regarding the implementation of HB 7 throughout the university system, which UF will adopt when complete.

Contact [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @peytonlharris.

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