DeSantis targets ‘ideological’ programs in proposed university changes


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a slate of changes to Florida’s university system on Tuesday that could shake up diversity, equity and inclusion programs as well as faculty tenure at campuses across the state.

The Republican governor is asking the Legislature in the upcoming session to eliminate all state funding toward those programs, which he deems “ideological,” and pass a measure that would give university officials the power to launch a tenure review at any time. These proposals could prove to be banner higher education legislation in 2023 as Florida Republicans seize on colleges in their push to eliminate “woke” lessons in schools.

“People want to see true academics and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all this,” DeSantis said Tuesday at an event in Bradenton, Fla.

DeSantis earlier this month laid the groundwork for this proposal by launching an initial probe for data on how much state funding flows to diversity, equity and inclusion programs — as well as critical race theory — at state colleges and universities, giving the first indication that these services could be on the chopping block this year. Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, encompasses a breadth of policies and programs promoting the representation and participation of different groups in schools, which can include ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations.

After universities responded to his request and spelled out at least $34.5 million in spending toward diversity and similar programs, DeSantis pledged to “eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies” statewide. That appears to put at risk positions at colleges such as the University of Florida’s chief diversity office, which develops and coordinates “inclusive excellence” strategy and initiatives across UF and supports compliance with federal Affirmative Action regulations.

“No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

Officials alongside DeSantis claimed Tuesday that DEI programs are a “lie” that are harming students by limiting discourse and restricting debate among students. They criticized universities in other states such as California and Illinois that require applicants to sign diversity and equity statements as a commitment to those principles.

“We are rejecting mistakes that other states are making,” said State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues.

DeSantis has sought to reshape Florida’s colleges and universities into more conservative-leaning institutions. He recently appointed six new trustees to the board of the Sarasota-based New College, a small liberal arts college, and last year, his chief of staff helped former Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse navigate the University of Florida application process to become the flagship university’s new president.

DeSantis also wants Florida lawmakers to give university presidents and trustee boards power to call for a review of a tenured faculty member at any time. The Legislature in 2022 passed a law clearing a path for the state university system’s Board of Governors to adopt rules requiring tenured faculty to take part in a “comprehensive” review every five years. Now, DeSantis wants to expand that policy.

Additionally, DeSantis is pushing to give university presidents more authority in faculty hiring decisions. The Republican governor also suggested spending $100 million in state cash to recruit “highly qualified” faculty at universities.

DeSantis also said that the state is preparing to send more funding toward New College of Florida, which is could soon be getting a curriculum and faculty overhaul. He said that Florida lawmakers are set to consider a $15 million budget allocation for new faculty and scholarships at the school in the coming weeks. He also wants a recurring $10 million to bring in faculty at New College.

“You’re not spending the money on DEI bureaucracies, you’re spending the money on bringing really good people in that are going to be able to teach our university students,” DeSantis said. “I think that makes much more sense from a financial perspective and it’s much more mission-oriented in terms of what we’re trying to do.”

The union representing higher education faculty in Florida said it will fully oppose the governor’s proposals.

“The United Faculty of Florida stand in lock-step opposition to any and all so-called ‘reforms’ that will actually destroy our state’s world-class degree programs and their ability to serve our students,” said UFF President Andrew Gothard in a statement. “We will not allow Florida’s future to be sacrificed for cheap political points.”

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