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Leading Florida Democrat slams offering $500 for college students to participate in state survey

A screenshot is seen April 16, 2024, of one question from the latest intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity survey being administered to all public college and university students across Florida by the State University System and Board of Education. (Fresh Take Florida).
A screenshot is seen April 16, 2024, of one question from the latest intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity survey being administered to all public college and university students across Florida by the State University System and Board of Education. (Fresh Take Florida).

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, criticized universities for incentivizing participation in the survey in a social media post to X on Wednesday.

A prominent Democrat is criticizing Florida universities for trying to boost student participation in a politically charged state survey by offering a $500 bookstore raffle at their respective schools.

The Board of Governors announced the raffles last week when it extended the deadline for completing the survey to Friday from last week.

Earlier this week, Fresh Take Florida, a news service at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, reported that the survey of college and university students includes a host of new questions this year.

They probe how their political views have affected relationships on campus – and whether it’s hard to be friends with people who have voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, among other queries about politics, protests and free speech on campus.

Critics said they thought the deadline extension and raffle with a financial incentive stem from fears about low turnout. The 2022 student survey had a participation rate of roughly 2%. The annual survey, which is required by state law, was suspended last year.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, criticized universities for incentivizing participation in the survey in a social media post to X on Wednesday. The post included a screenshot of a text message sent to a Florida International University student advertising an automatic entry into a $500 FIU Foundation bookstore giveaway for participation in the survey.

“Florida universities are now trying to incentivize students with a raffle to take this politically motivated ‘intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity’ [survey] created by the legislature – the questions are overwhelmingly bias, no wonder students have historically not participated,” wrote Eskamani.

She is on the Legislature’s budget conference committee for higher education and also is a public affairs doctoral student at the University of Central Florida.

The survey, which is voluntary and anonymous, is mandated by a state law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 due to concerns over what supporters described as anti-conservative sentiment on Florida college campuses.

This year's survey has more than double the number of questions compared to the previous version and heavily focuses on the political divide between conservatives and liberals, Fresh Take Florida reported Tuesday.

The Biden-Trump questions are asked separately. The survey says, Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “It’s hard to be friends with people who voted for Joe Biden” and then the same question with Trump’s name instead of Biden’s. Students are given a range of possible answers, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Some other politically pointed questions ask whether the student has been socially excluded, harassed or threatened for sharing political views, lost friends because of their political beliefs and witnessed students with either liberal or conservative views receive “uncivil treatment.”

As of Wednesday evening, the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of South Florida and Florida International University have notified students about a $500 raffle entry in exchange for their participation in the survey. Five winners will be chosen in raffles on May 15.

“The students aren't the ones who think that this is necessary. They're not the ones calling for it, so they're not going to spend their time filling it out.”
Kate Hull

Email and text notifications about the raffle said the college’s respective foundations — nonprofit organizations that operate from donor money — were funding the giveaway.

“The students aren't the ones who think that this is necessary,” Kate Hull, a 46-year-old graduate student at the University of South Florida and president of USF’s Graduate Assistants United, said of the survey. “They're not the ones calling for it, so they're not going to spend their time filling it out.”

But Owen Girard, a 19-year-old junior at Florida State University and president of his university's Turning Point USA chapter, a conservative group, said it’s understandable that universities would try to incentivize student participation for research purposes. Incentives are a common practice among polling agencies, he added.

“My only concern would be that the information that students provide is accurate and that they are not simply answering the questions just to receive the incentive,” Girard said.

Eskamani said she understands colleges might feel pressured by state leaders to have higher response rates this year. She said state officials and university administrators should prioritize students’ academic excellence rather than promoting a “politically motivated” survey.

“If you're going to respect viewpoint diversity, then respect students' desires not to take your dumb survey,” she said.

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached afriedman1@ufl.edu and lauren.brensel@ufl.edu.

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