This sound is generated automatically. If you have feedback, please let us know.
Over the past few months, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has stepped up his attacks on what he sees as a dangerous status quo in public higher education, which he says is beating students with “woke” liberal values.
DeSantis ordered Florida’s public colleges and universities detail their expenses on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI programs. He did what his critics call conservative takeover public liberal arts institution New College of Florida, where he installed several far-right voices on the board as well as one of his most visible allies, former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran, as president.
It’s not done yet.
DeSantis’ campaign against public postsecondary education peaked at the end of last month promising to take legislative action to destroy the systems that perpetuate “identity politics and indoctrination.”
Proposed legislation DeSantis wanted was introduced on Tuesday. Sponsored by a House Republican who seized some of the governor’s other legislative prioritiesThe bill would overturn some of the longest-standing conventions of American higher education and impose an unprecedented degree of state control, such as forcing institutions to drop gender studies programs.
Supporters of free speech characterized the design as censorious and draconian.
Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, the union representing broad contingents of instructors at Florida institutions, said he would fight the bill with all his might. DeSantis was unable to produce a single example of higher education brainwashing students, Gothard said. But this law instead mandates a state-sponsored form of indoctrination, “fascism in its purest form,” he said.
Some provisions of the Act may also conflict with accreditation standards, such as ensuring the maintenance of shared governance. Accreditors serve as gatekeepers for colleges to access federal Title IV money.
Below, we summarize parts of the bill that is likely to gain support in Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature.
Dictating instructions on certain topics
Elected officials organizing the curriculum clash with the guiding principles of higher education. The prevailing view among universities is that faculty have responsibility for academics within a tradition of shared governance.
But the bill specifically blocks colleges from offering majors or minors in intersectional studies, gender studies or critical race theory, a decades-old academic concept that originated with lawyers and partly teaches about the systemic nature of racism.
The Republican Party began to fall for the critical race theory toward the end of former President Donald Trump’s term, and the movement against it only grew stronger. Many state Republicans have introduced bills to banish the topic from K-12 schools and college classrooms, though these policymakers often associate critical race theory with any DEI work.
Florida’s proposed legislation also includes requirements for general education courses that students take as foundational work for a combined degree in their chosen field.
It calls on colleges to reserve curricula “based on unproven, theoretical or exploratory content” for electives or specialist subjects.
General education classes must not “suppress or distort significant historical events or include curriculum that teaches identity politics.” Instead, courses should, whenever possible, “promote the philosophical foundations of Western civilization” and teach about key documents in U.S. history, such as the U.S. Constitution, the bill says.
Giving boards more hiring power
High-level administrators and teachers usually decide which instructors to hire.
The bill would delegate that authority to campus boards of trustees, which in Florida’s public university system are partly appointed by the governor and partly elected by the system-level board of trustees. However, Florida’s governor also selects a majority from the board of governors.
The board could choose to return control of faculty recruitment to the university president, who could not delegate the task to anyone else. And every year, presidents would have to share with the board details about the performance of anyone with an annual salary of $100,000 or more.
University governing boards would have to approve and then reconfirm each member of the university’s executive teams and their salaries, a job usually left to trustees.
The granting of powers to senior OK officials to administrative boards is another form of political litmus test, the faculty union said. Leaders fear councils will vet officials based on their beliefs.
Limitations on Tenure
The tenure debate has raged across the United States, with opponents arguing that some professors have used what are usually lifetime appointments to perform poorly on the job.
The purpose of tenure is to protect faculty in their scholarship if they engage in potentially unpopular research.
The bill states that Florida universities would be able to evaluate tenured professors at any time after they have secured status, a process known as post-tenure review. To initiate such a review, the university would need a “case”, which the legislation does not define.
Right now Florida University System considers politics this would introduce post-tenure reviews, but these could only occur every five years.
Exile Diversity Initiatives
Colleges would expressly be unable to fund programs that promote DEI or “critical race theory” rhetoric.
Public universities also could not rely on DEI statements to generally describe job applicants’ commitment to diversity in hiring.
Critics of DEI present diversity practices as discriminatory or as an effort to place the blame on students for past prejudices in American history, even though students did not participate in those events. However, DEI’s work arose in part from a recognition by colleges that they did not always serve disadvantaged populations, such as students who are racial minorities, well. DEI programs now intend to elevate these students onto a path of upward social mobility.