A new report by The James Madison Institute’s Marshall Center for Educational Options finds that the entire Florida higher education system could be “very well positioned to meet the growing demand for intellectually-serious academic study at an affordable cost.”
Entitled, “Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity: How Florida Universities Currently Measure Up,” the JMI report compiles a variety of different measures that examine how well today’s universities protect free speech, promote a campus culture open to different viewpoints, and respond to speech-bullying by those seeking to drown out viewpoints they oppose.
On all of these measures, the University of Florida ranks among the nation’s leaders. In fact, UF’s ranking tied for 5th nationally in the composite scores of Heterodox Academy, an ideologically-diverse consortium of scholars working to improve viewpoint diversity in their academic fields and institutions. In addition, UF is one of only three dozen universities in the U.S. to claim the highest “green light” rating for protecting free speech given by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Six other Florida universities have improved their FIRE ratings since JMI collaborated on a similar report in 2013 – Florida Gulf Coast, Florida International, New College, North Florida, South Florida, and West Florida. Of these, UNF stands out, as it went from “red light” status to “green light” status.
Still, Florida’s higher education system has room for improvement, says JMI President and CEO Dr. Bob McClure. Citing recommendations found in the report, McClure called for “Florida’s university leaders to abolish all ‘speech codes,’ and ‘speech zones.”
“It would be a mistake to think that Florida’s public universities are in no way threatened by the rise of speech-bullying nationwide,” observed report author and Director of JMI’s Marshall Center for Educational Options William Mattox. He cited the University of Missouri’s troubles in the wake of a 2015 speech-squelching incident as a cautionary tale.
“At the same time, it would be an even bigger mistake for Florida higher education leaders to approach this topic with fear and trembling,” Mattox observed. “The campus unrest at many universities around the country gives Florida’s institutions of higher learning an opportunity to distinguish themselves as citadels of free expression, intellectual diversity, and academic excellence.”