As the Spring semester ends, administration across Florida’s public colleges and universities will have to work quickly to descale most programs or resources related to diversity, equity and inclusion. On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a spate of bills, the most important one prohibiting Florida’s public institutions from spending money on DEI initiatives, according to a press release.
Referring to DEI as a concept that “promote(s) dangerous political and social activism,” DeSantis believes it espouses censorship and disproportionately antagonizes conservative voices on campus. When the governor helped revamp New College of Florida as a classical, conservative-leaning institution in January, the school swiftly eliminated its Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence.
“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “And that has no place in our public institutions. This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida.”
SB 266 also precludes public colleges and universities from teaching required general courses that insinuate “systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States” and that they are weaponized to sustain inequities across the country’s social, political and economic environment. Moreover, the bill places higher accountability on university presidents to fire faculty.
Another bill signed into law that day prohibits state institutions from requiring faculty or students to sign DEI statements. It also requires schools to establish an Office of Public Policy Events to ensure speaker events host a range of diverging opinions on public policy.
Some believe that initiatives by Florida’s politicians to limit DEI efforts constrain institutions’ academic freedom.
“It’s basically state-mandated censorship, which has no place in a democracy,” said Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, according to The Washington Post.
DeSantis’ flagship “Stop WOKE Act” bill in November aimed to clamp down on reviewing tenured faculty members who teach “divisive concepts.” However, a U.S. district judge struck down many critical aspects of the bill as he compared it to George Orwell’s famous book “1984.”
Efforts targeting DEI grow nationwide
In April, Texas’ Senate passed a bill requiring all state colleges and universities to close their offices pertaining to DEI. Like Florida, it would prohibit institutions from requiring diversity statements and training.
One Ohio bill aimed to ban mandatory diversity training but recently has been modified to permit it when related to accreditation, licensing and grants.
The Board of Regents for Iowa’s three public universities is pausing any new DEI programs to review its current initiatives. One proposed bill aims to defund DEI offices and administrators.
Oklahoma can very well be the next state to enact similar measures. In February, the state’s secretary of education requested a detailed report on the state’s spending related to DEI, a similar measure taken by DeSantis.