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From the Independent Florida Alligator Online


Capitol bill aims to control ‘leftist’ profs
THE LAW COULD LET STUDENTS SUE FOR UNTOLERATED BELIEFS.

By JAMES VANLANDINGHAM


Alligator Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee.

The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House.

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added.

“This is a horrible step,” he said. “Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation.”

The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift responsibility for determining whether a student’s freedom has been infringed from the faculty to the courts.

But Baxley brushed off Gelber’s concerns. “Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” he said. “Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue.”

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as “leftists” struggling against “mainstream society.”

“The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty,” he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist.

Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities and the state Board of Governors already have policies in place to protect academic freedom. Moreover, a state law outlining how professors are supposed to teach would encroach on the board’s authority to manage state schools.

“The big hand of state government is going into the universities telling them how to teach,” she said. “This bill is the antithesis of academic freedom.”

But Baxley compared the state’s universities to children, saying the legislature should not give them money without providing “guidance” to their behavior.

“Professors are accountable for what they say or do,” he said. “They’re accountable to the rest of us in society … All of a sudden the faculty think they can do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so unheard of to say the professor shouldn’t be a dictator and control that room as their totalitarian niche?”

In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said “arrogant, elitist academics are swarming” to oppose the bill, and media reports misrepresented his intentions.

“I expect to be out there on my own pretty far,” he said. “I don’t expect to be part of a team.”

House Bill H-837 can be viewed online at www.flsenate.gov.

Copyright © 1996–2005 Alligator Online and Campus Communications.

Also In the news...

UNIVERSITY FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK -- University students would be guaranteed "free inquiry and free speech" in the classroom under a bill approved by a House committee. But detractors said it would open up legal assaults from students upset by the absence of fringe views. "Students that say, `I don't believe the Holocaust happened. I believe that birth control is a sin. I think that prayer is a way to deal with illness rather than medical intervention.' All of those people (would) have standing to go to the courts" if college professors discussed those broad topics without addressing their particular concerns, said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. House Bill 837's sponsor, Ocala Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, disagreed forcefully, saying conservatives are targets of "persecution" on campus. Baxley recalled his first day in an anthropology class at Florida State University (we were at the hearing and the reporter has it wrong: Baxley was talking about a hypothetical case or a case in which the person was not identified) when the professor said, "Evolution is a fact. There's no missing link. I don't want to hear any talk about intelligent design and if you don't like that, there's the door. The leftists with those viewpoints didn't take our campuses," Baxley said. "Those in the mainstream just relinquished them for fear of being called bigots." A House committee approved the bill on party lines. Given Baxley's powerful post of House Education Council chairman, passage in the House seems likely. But Baxley admitted passage in the Senate might be more difficult. (Baxley said plenty more railing against the "totalitarianism" on college campuses. A scary committee meeting.)

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THE LEDGER

Published Wednesday, March 23, 2005
House OKs Student `Free Speech' Bill
Detractors say it is geared toward conservative and religious views.

By Joe Follick


Ledger Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- University students would be guaranteed "free inquiry and free speech" in the classroom under a bill approved by a House committee Tuesday.

But detractors said it would open up legal assaults from students upset by the absence of fringe views.

"Students that say, `I don't believe the Holocaust happened. I believe that birth control is a sin. I think that prayer is a way to deal with illness rather than medical intervention.' All of those people (would) have standing to go to the courts" if college professors discussed those broad topics without addressing their particular concerns, said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach.

House Bill 837's sponsor, Ocala Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, disagreed forcefully, saying conservatives are targets of "persecution" on campus. Baxley recalled his first day in an anthropology class at Florida State University when the professor said, "Evolution is a fact. There's no missing link. I don't want to hear any talk about intelligent design and if you don't like that, there's the door.

"The leftists with those viewpoints didn't take our campuses," Baxley said. "Those in the mainstream just relinquished them for fear of being called bigots."

A House committee approved the bill on party lines Tuesday. Given Baxley's powerful post of House Education Council chairman, passage in the House seems likely.

But Baxley admitted passage in the Senate might be more difficult.

The Senate has yet to schedule a hearing for its version of the bill. Baxley said he got the idea for the bill from well-known conservative activist David Horowitz. Horowitz's group, Students for Academic Freedom, has pushed for passage of similar bills in all 50 states.

House Bill 837 promises to protect "free inquiry and free speech within the academic community." A portion of the bill says that students should not have their academic freedom "infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

Baxley says the bill would also protect a pro-choice student from retribution if he disagreed with a professor's pro-life stances, but argued it was to protect conservative voices in liberal academe.

Gelber said the bill would infringe academic freedom by banishing open dialogue with no restraints. "Candidly, it's a horrible step," he said.

Baxley said even if the bill doesn't become law, it serves as warning to professors misusing their position "in order to indoctrinate the next generation."

Teachers and professors' groups are opposed to the bill, but did not provide specifics during brief remarks in the House Choice and Innovation Committee Tuesday.



WHO RUNS THE UNIVERSITIES? -- The fight over the purse strings of the state's university system will play out before a county judge next month, when the Florida Legislature will be pitted against the state Board of Governors in a Leon County courtroom. Legislators have lost that battle once before, when the 1st District Court of Appeal decided last year that the Board of Governors had power over university finances based on a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002. So this time, legislators are rushing through a bill that would spell out exactly how they see the division of powers between the two entities. Under the bill, which passed the House on a second reading Tuesday, the legislature would have total control over the $3.35 billion budget of the state's 11 universities, while the Board of Governors would approve degree programs, oversee admissions policies and define the mission of each university. "Maybe we can give them some direction," House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, explaining that the bill may help clarify things for the judge who will hear the case. But Bense's "direction" translates to "government overreach" to those who oppose the bill. During a prolonged debate on the House floor, several representatives questioned how the legislature could take control of university financing - including the power to set tuition and fees - when they say the wording of the amendment clearly gives that power to the Board of Governors. "The board shall operate, regulate, control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system," the amendment reads. "I think the language in the constitution is clear," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach. "But in your bill, you give powers to the legislature with respect to... purchasing, procurement, contracting, leasing." The opponents say the bill is nothing more than a power grab by legislators upset about the amendment, which then-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham championed after the Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated the state Board of Regents, which had functioned in the same way as the Board of Governors. "I think that's part of the reason why citizens voted for this amendment," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach. "They were concerned that this became simply a legislatively controlled process. If it is, university funding goes with the whims of each legislative body."

PALM BEACH POST


House bill returns power over university budgets to legislators
By Alan Gomez
Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - The fight over the purse strings of the state's university system will play out before a county judge next month, when the Florida Legislature will be pitted against the state Board of Governors in a Leon County courtroom.

Legislators have lost that battle once before, when the 1st District Court of Appeal decided last year that the Board of Governors had power over university finances based on a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002.

       
So this time, legislators are rushing through a bill that would spell out exactly how they see the division of powers between the two entities.

Under the bill, which passed the House on a second reading Tuesday, the legislature would have total control over the $3.35 billion budget of the state's 11 universities, while the Board of Governors would approve degree programs, oversee admissions policies and define the mission of each university.

"Maybe we can give them some direction," House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, explaining that the bill may help clarify things for the judge who will hear the case.

But Bense's "direction" translates to "government overreach" to those who oppose the bill.


During a prolonged debate on the House floor Tuesday, several representatives questioned how the legislature could take control of university financing - including the power to set tuition and fees - when they say the wording of the amendment clearly gives that power to the Board of Governors.

"The board shall operate, regulate, control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system," the amendment reads.

"I think the language in the constitution is clear," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach. "But in your bill, you give powers to the legislature with respect to... purchasing, procurement, contracting, leasing."

The opponents say the bill is nothing more than a power grab by legislators upset about the amendment, which then-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., championed after the Republican-controlled legislature eliminated the state Board of Regents, which had functioned in the same way as the Board of Governors.

"I think that's part of the reason why citizens voted for this amendment," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach. "They were concerned that this became simply a legislatively controlled process. If it is, university funding goes with the whims of each legislative body."

Supporters of the bill say the amendment needs to be clarified against provisions in the state constitution that give the legislature oversight of the state's budget.

Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, sponsored the bill (HB 1001) and said it was necessary to lay out the differences between the constitutionally mandated responsibilities of the legislature to appropriate the state's finances with the role of the Board of Governors.

"It is the obligation of this legislature to define those duties, to give both the Board of Governors and the legislature their full measure of constitutional responsibilities," Goodlette said on the House floor Tuesday. "What this bill anticipates doing is to... harmonize those conflicting provisions in the state constitution."

During Tuesday's debate, Goodlette said the legislature could later decide to give tuition- and fee-setting powers back to the Board of Governors.

"The possibility of that occurring still does exist," he said.


But critics said they doubted the legislature would give back a power after a prolonged battle to secure it.
More troubling, however, is the intention behind the bill, critics said.
"Certainly, this is a bill that is trying to affect the outcome of that (court) case," said Seiler, who added he was disturbed by any legislation whose purpose is to allow one branch of government to interfere with the powers of another.

"I'm somewhat of a constitutional purist," Seiler said. "We may not like it, but when they get in there, we have a duty to comply with them."

There is still no Senate version of the bill, and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, said he was not sure when the Senate would finalize one.

"We take pretty seriously the constitutional amendments and try to abide by what people asked us to do," Alexander said.

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GAINESVILLE SUN
Article published Mar 23, 2005
UF, lawmakers debate tuition

A frustration is building among University of Florida's board of trustees that the state Legislature is hindering - not helping - the state's flagship school scale the summit of top research institutions nationwide.

It's a slippery slope indeed.

UF officials want the ability to control university tuition, a power that could mean extra funds to hire Nobel prize winners and other top-notch faculty, create an enviable graduate program and make elbow-room-only classes a manageable size.

But legislators face pressures to keep tuition low and schools accessible to an exploding population. If the price of a college education goes up, then so does the state's obligation to pay for Bright Futures scholarships and the Florida Pre-Paid College Plan.

The competing values collided again Tuesday. A bill giving lawmakers the job to set tuition and fees moved easily through the House on second reading only hours after UF's board of trustees complained that they were getting little support in Tallahassee.

"Right now they are not making the leap to devolution as the solution," board trustee Dianna Morgan said of the Legislature and its slowness to hand over some power to university boards, a process called devolution.

Morgan proposed asking House Speaker Alan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee to host a higher-education summit in Tallahassee with leaders from the state's 11 public universities. Trustee Chairman Manny Fernandez said he plans to meet with other board of trustees chairmen to discuss the possibility of a meeting.

"We get it but how do we get everyone else to understand how close we are to greatness," said Fernandez, who's been a regular in the state capital in asking for more autonomy.

UF's tuition ranks lowest in the elite club of research institutions in the Association of American Universities. UF officials have said that the low tuition impedes their ability to attract and hire top faculty.

"We can't be a great university and a great value at the same time," Joelen Merkel, a UF graduate and former executive with Chris-Craft Industries, told her fellow board members Tuesday during a special discussion on how to win over state elected leaders.

And if UF's tuition is compared to that of Ohio State University, it loses out on at least $200 million a year, UF President Bernie Machen said.

"If we don't get the $200 million, we will remain a top value and not a top 10," Machen said.

For the first time since he took the helm more than a year ago, Machen questioned whether there is public support for UF's long-term mission.

In fact, the lone Republican in Alachua County's legislative delegation, Rep. Larry Cretul of Ocala, has twice supported House Bill 1001, which was introduced by Naples Rep. Dudley Goodlette, also a Republican.

The bill's goal is to resolve apparent conflicts in the state constitution as to the responsibilities of the Board of Governors and the Legislature, conflicts yet to have been resolved since state voters established the Board of Governors in 2002.

A lawsuit filed by Floridians for Constitutional Integrity, a group that includes Florida's State University System Chancellor Emeritus E.T. York, also seeks clarification of duties. But the group wants the courts to decide - not lawmakers.

The bill says the Board of Governors would set the missions of each university, adopt an overall strategic plan to prevent unneeded program duplication, approve new degree programs, submit budget requests to the Legislature for university funding and govern admissions policies at each of the universities.

The Legislature, however, would retain the power to establish tuition and fees, make policies on financial aid and appropriate money for Florida's 11 public universities.

Even though Cretul knows that UF doesn't support it, Cretul said he supported the bill because he is convinced that the duties needed to be clarified.

"We needed to begin to do something," Cretul said. "I would hate to see us leave here without attempting to solve this."

He said he's optimistic, however, something can be worked out in regards to tuition.

In his budget, Gov. Jeb Bush authorized the universities to set tuition rates for graduate, professional and out-of-state students as a first step.

Cretul and Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville, said they believe the universities will, by the end of the session, end up with those powers.

Additionally, Jennings wants the universities to commit some of the money raised with the tuition increases committed to need-based aid.

Goodlette promised Jennings it would be worked out.



"There's still room and time for amendments to be filed," Jennings said.

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.




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