Home » News » As DeSantis tries to change higher ed, new book seeks to debunk claims of indoctrination on campuses

By Dennis Hetzel, published on February 3, 2023

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Photo courtesy iStock: Marcio Silva

In the same week in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled sweeping proposals to stop what he called liberal indoctrination on Florida college campuses, an expert on rhetoric and free speech announced a new book in which he says such claims are anecdotal at best and unsupported by solid evidence.

“There’s really a debate about what is the purpose of higher education, particularly publicly funded higher education systems,” DeSantis said, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. “You have the dominant view, which I think is not the right view, to impose ideological conformity, to provoke political activism. Instead, we need our higher education systems to promote academic excellence.”


Meanwhile, the Daily Beast called the DeSantis measures “the most draconian restrictions on public higher education institutions in the United States.”


Among other things, DeSantis has proposed that a single system-wide board would control core curricula. Efforts to teach critical race theory and initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion would be all but banned while trustee boards would have expansive power to hire and fire faculty, undermining tenure protections.


According to the Times’ story, DeSantis also proposed changes in standards and course content “to ensure higher education is rooted in the values of liberty and [W]estern tradition.” He said students graduating from Florida universities would be required to take general education courses that include “actual history and actual philosophy that has shaped [W]estern civilization.”


However, Bradford Vivian, a professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State University who specializes in the use of rhetoric, believes these issues have been blown way out of proportion.


In a news release promoting his new book, “Campus Misinformation: The Real Threat to Free Speech in American Higher Education,” Vivian argues that these claims are based on “flimsy anecdotal evidence rather than sound data,” generally for political and ideological reasons, and pose their own threats to free speech.


“Public sentiment was starting to set in that if you were part of higher ed, you were part of some ideological cabal,” Vivian said in the Penn State news release. “All of this made me worried about the state of public discourse. When you have widespread cynicism and misinformation about universities, that threatens democracy … There’s a whole political vocabulary used now to create cynical, anti-diverse and anti-inclusive narratives about college campuses.”


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