Background on the change in law:
In brief, House Bill 7 (HB 7) amends a current Florida non-discrimination law (Fla. Stat. 1000.05: Florida Educational Equity Act) to provide that an educational institution, including UCF, may not subject any student or employee to training or instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such student or employee to believe” any of eight “specified concepts” (listed below, each based on race, color, sex, or national origin) because such action would be per se discriminatory under the amended statute.
The eight specified concepts are:
- Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily defined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.
- Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, national origin, or sex to oppress members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.
Importantly, the statute provides that the specified concepts can be discussed as part of a larger course of training or instruction, so long as the training or instruction is “given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
The Florida Board of Governors (BOG) provides the following definition of “instruction”: the process of teaching or engaging students with content about a particular subject by a university employee or a person authorized to provide instruction by the university within a course.
Instruction is instructor-led class content (i.e., syllabus lectures, assessments, and assigned materials) delivered by a faculty member assigned to a specific course, at specific time and place, and/or in a specific modality to a student enrolled in that course. Because instruction occurs within a course, it does not include faculty speaking engagements outside of a specific course (unless attendance by students within a specific course is mandatory or offered as the only option in exchange for tangible benefits, e.g., extra credit), faculty research outside of a specific course (e.g., publishing scholarly articles), faculty commentary outside of a specific course (e.g., social media), student to student discussions (whether inside or out of class), or to student-generated coursework such as presentations..
The BOG provides the following definition of “training”: a planned and organized activity conducted by the university as a mandatory condition of employment, enrollment, or participation in a university program for the purpose of imparting knowledge, developing skills or competencies, or becoming proficient in a particular job or role. Training could occur as part of employee onboarding, orientation, specialized skills training as part of a volunteer or employed role, or other required activities that qualify as training for a role. However, where individuals seek out activities on a voluntary basis, e.g., for reasons of personal interest or enrichment, that would not constitute training for purposes of this law.
HB 7 “SPECIFIED CONCEPTS” FAQ
Can I discuss topics or teach concepts in my classroom that may make people feel uncomfortable?
Yes. The law does not prevent discussion of topics that may be controversial or make some people feel uncomfortable. However, you may not tell students they should or must feel guilty because they belong to a particular race, color, national origin or sex. And you should not tell students how to feel or that they need to admit to feeling a certain way about these topics. The legislature’s stated purpose in adopting this law was to prohibit coercing students and employees to particular beliefs.
What if my course involves instruction on one or more of the “specified concepts”?
The law requires instruction on one or more of the specified concepts to be conducted “in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.” Otherwise, the instruction may be viewed as discrimination against your students under Florida law, which has potential consequences.
This does not mean that you are forbidden from discussing such concepts in your course, so long as your discussion is done “in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.” If your course involves the specified concepts, we recommend that you consider how to present and lead discussion of the specified concepts during instruction. UCF has several resources available through the FCTL- including a page dedicated to civil pedagogy at https://fctl.ucf.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-management/civil-pedagogy/ – that may be of interest.
What about trainings that discuss the “specified concepts”?
Similar to student instruction, the University may not subject employees or students to a mandatory training that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels [the individual] to believe” any of the eight “specified concepts.” The concepts may be discussed as part of a larger course of training as long as they are delivered in an “objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
Can I teach or train about advantages enjoyed by some members of our society?
Yes. An individual’s background and experience may have given that individual advantages or disadvantages different from those experienced by others with different backgrounds and experiences. It is okay to discuss these kinds of differences as part of instruction or training as long as nobody is told (1) that they should feel guilty or superior about their respective advantages and disadvantages or (2) that they are responsible for or the beneficiary of others not having the same advantages or disadvantages.
What about historical events that are racist or sexist, is it okay to talk about them in my class?
Yes. Discussion about historical events, even events that are difficult to talk about, are important to include as appropriate to the subject(s) of your classes. However, you may not tell students in your class that they are responsible for those events, or that they should feel guilty because they belong to a particular group that was responsible for the events.
I have experienced racism or sexism. Is it okay for me to talk about this in the classroom?
Yes, it is okay to tell your story. However, you may not tell students they must feel guilty because they belong to a group that committed racist or sexist acts toward you.
How do we teach on the concepts described as “unlawful discrimination” when there is so much scientific evidence to support them?
We recognize that this change in law presents a challenge when addressing certain topics. Teaching objectively about any, or all, of the concepts specified in the bill is acceptable and allowed. What the law prohibits is the university (through its trainers or instructors of record) training or instructing employees or students that they are personally responsible for events that occurred in the past or telling them they should feel guilty for these events. This change in law was described by the bill sponsors as one that seeks to ensure that universities do not place guilt or blame on the basis of an individual’s race, sex, national origin, or color.
Can training on cultural competency be required as a condition of employment?
Yes; however, individuals who take cultural competency training must not be told they should feel guilty because they belong to a particular group (such as a particular race or national origin or sex or color), and they cannot be required to admit to guilt as a condition of their employment.
What does “in an objective manner without endorsement” mean?
This language is not defined by Florida law, and the Florida Legislature did not provide guidance on what this language means in the context of implementing or complying with the requirements. However, the University interprets this phrase according to its plain meaning and consistently with faculty members’ existing obligations to teach their academic subjects in an objective and skillful manner. See UFF UCF Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), specifically Section 5.2 (Academic Freedom):
Consistent with the exercise of academic responsibility, employees shall have freedom to present and discuss their own academic subjects, frankly and forthrightly, without fear of censorship…[o]bjective and skillful disposition of such subject matter, including the acknowledgement of a variety of scholarly opinions, is the duty of every employee.
Faculty members who teach in disciplines related to the specified concepts can best protect themselves from claims of discrimination by continuing to acknowledge a variety of evidence-based scholarly opinions on academic subjects. Ideas in a course should be founded in scholarly evidence and opinions, just as they must be in a published work.
How can I present material “in an objective manner without endorsement” if it is my own scholarly research?
Consistent with the dual concepts of academic freedom and academic responsibility, you may present and discuss your own scholarly research without censorship while also being expected to acknowledge a variety of other scholarly opinions in the same subject area.
You may wish to include an explicit statement for your students, whether in your syllabus or verbally during instruction, making it clear that your students are free to form their own opinions about your scholarly research, for or against, after considering the other evidence-based scholarship in the same subject area.
What are the consequences for including the “specified concepts” in my instruction?
Students who feel they have been subject to instruction on one or more of the “specified concepts” in a way that was not objective, or in a way that involved endorsement of the concepts, can take one of three routes to complain: file a lawsuit, file a complaint with the Board of Governors, or file a complaint with a standing committee of the Florida Legislature. If one of these three bodies makes a “substantiated finding” of a violation, the University will be ineligible for all performance-based funding for the fiscal year following the year in which a violation is found. Additionally, violation of these provisions by a university employee could result in disciplinary action from the University, if you instruct students or train on the “specified concepts” in a manner that violates your responsibility to the institution.
Do faculty still have control over the classroom environment and their presentation of information?
Faculty are experts in their respective fields, they deal in facts, and sound analyses of those facts. This law does not change that.
UCF affirms the principles of Academic Freedom and Responsibility which are premised on the idea of the University as a community of scholars working together in the pursuit of knowledge in an atmosphere of inclusivity, engagement with diverse ideas, and dialogue. The University respects and supports the professional judgment of the faculty in their right to select topics for teaching and research, including issues related to race, gender, class, disability, and sexuality, among others. This implies the understanding that while material reflecting diverse perspectives may at times make some people feel uncomfortable, this is part of a rigorous education that provides the tools necessary for responsible and engaged citizenship in the twenty-first century.
What do faculty and other University employees who provide instruction or training need to do to comply with this new law?
Please take some time to learn what this new law says, what it requires and what it prohibits. If you are teaching, it might be helpful to include a disclaimer in your class materials, including course syllabi, giving the message that (a) while the university cannot shield students from ideas and opinions they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive, (b) any instructional discussions are intended to be objective, and (c) discussion of certain concepts does not mean students are required to endorse any particular view.
What resources are there to help me?
The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a webpage with various strategies and examples to help you facilitate constructive dialogue in your courses (https://fctl.ucf.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-management/civil-pedagogy/).
You may want to consider including a statement in your course materials (including syllabi) to set your expectations for the class. Below is one example.
Fundamental to University of Central Florida’s mission is support for an environment where divergent ideas, theories, and philosophies can be openly exchanged and critically evaluated. Consistent with these principles, this course may involve discussion of ideas that you find uncomfortable, disagreeable, or even offensive. These ideas are intended to be presented in an objective manner and not as an endorsement of what you should personally believe. Objective means that the idea presented can be tested by critical peer review and rigorous debate, and that the idea is supported by credible research. Not all ideas can be supported by objective methods or criteria. Regardless, you may decide that certain ideas are worthy of your personal belief. In this course, however, you may be asked to engage with complex ideas and to demonstrate an understanding of the ideas. Understanding an idea does not mean that you are required to believe it or agree with it.