A new bill overhauling Florida universities to match Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vision for higher education would shift power at state schools into the hands of the Republican leader’s political appointees and ban gender studies as a field of study.
The legislation, filed this week, would also require that general education courses at state colleges and universities “promote the values necessary to preserve the constitutional republic” and cannot define American history “as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” It would prohibit general courses “with a curriculum based on unproven, theoretical or exploratory content.”
The bill makes good on DeSantis’ pledge to ban colleges and universities from any expenditures on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. In a news conference earlier this month, DeSantis, who is weighing a 2024 presidential bid, said such programs create an “ideological filter,” and his office described them as “discriminatory.”
DEI programs are intended to promote multiculturalism and to encourage students of all races and backgrounds to feel comfortable in a campus setting, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities. The state’s flagship school, the University of Florida, has a “chief diversity officer,” a “Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement” and an “Office for Accessibility and Gender Equity.”
The bill would put all hiring decisions in the hands of each universities’ board of trustees, a body selected entirely by the governor and his appointees, with input from the school’s president. A board of trustee member could also call for the review of any faculty member’s tenure.
DeSantis has seen his standing among conservatives soar nationwide following his public stances on hot-button cultural and education issues.
The Republican governor has also installed a controversial new board at the New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college, with a mandate to remake the school into his conservative vision for higher education.
Presidents of Florida’s two-year community colleges last month committed to not teach critical race theory in a vacuum and to “not fund or support any institutional practice, policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality, or the idea that systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed and/or improved upon.”
The state’s education department characterized the move as a rejection of “‘woke’ diversity, equity and inclusion [and] critical race theory ideologies.”