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DeSantis signs bill targeting 'DEI'

Photo by Wylly Suhendra on Unsplash

By Ryan Dailey

News Service of Florida

May 15, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Continuing an effort to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from Florida’s higher-education system, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a measure aimed at prohibiting colleges and universities from spending money on “DEI” programs.

The governor also signed a separate bill that will prevent colleges and universities from requiring “political loyalty” tests for students and employees as a condition of admission or employment.

University system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues joined DeSantis for a bill-signing event at New College of Florida — the small liberal-arts school in Sarasota that has become a focus of the push by DeSantis and other state leaders to remake higher education.

“In reality, what this concept of DEI has been is an attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university. And not even necessarily in the classroom, but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself,” DeSantis said.

Under the DEI-related bill (SB 266), colleges and universities will be prevented from spending state or federal money to promote, support or maintain programs or campus activities that “advocate for” diversity, equity and inclusion. Schools also will not be able to spend money on programs or activities that “promote or engage in political or social activism” as defined by the State Board of Education or the university system’s Board of Governors.

Rodrigues, a former Republican state senator, touted the bill as providing for the “dismantling of the DEI bureaucracy that has grown up on our campuses.”

But the United Faculty of Florida sharply opposed the measure during this year’s legislative session, which ended May 5. Andrew Gothard, the union’s president and a professor at Florida Atlantic University, slammed DeSantis’ signing of the bill Monday, saying it shows the governor’s “authoritarian approach” to education.

“Today, we saw a governor who believes that viewpoint discrimination, the undermining of constitutional rights, compelling speech from students and faculty, and censoring ideas he disagrees with are somehow acceptable in a democratic society,” Gothard said in a statement.

The measure, which will take effect in July, also seeks to place new requirements on general-education core courses at colleges and universities. The state education board and the Board of Governors will appoint joint faculty committees to review such courses. The reviews could lead to the “removal, alignment, realignment, or addition” based on certain criteria.

For example, such courses would be barred from being based on “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, decried what she called a “destructive law” that “targets diverse students like me and our ability to thrive in higher education institutions.” Eskamani is a daughter of immigrants from Iran who is working on a doctorate at the University of Central Florida.

“It also suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom,” Eskamani said in a statement.

DeSantis and other Republican leaders have targeted what they describe as “trendy ideology” on campuses. DeSantis on Monday also praised the bill (HB 931) that will prohibit political loyalty tests.

“They will call them ‘diversity statements,’ but it’s really requiring you to sign up to support an ideological agenda that you may not be supportive of,” DeSantis said.

The bill will prevent such things as compelling statements in support of a “specific partisan, political, or ideological set of beliefs.”

DeSantis signed a third bill Monday (SB 240) that is aimed at strengthening workforce education, in part by providing tax breaks to businesses that employ apprentices or pre-apprentices.

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