A new bill in the Florida House of Representatives would squeeze diversity efforts and consolidate control over public universities, building on many of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stated aims.
House Bill 999, introduced this week by Rep. Alex Andrade, a Republican representing Pensacola, would allow the state Board of Governors to give direction to universities on removing majors and minors in such subjects as critical race theory and gender studies and bar spending on programs or activities that support such curricula. The Board of Governors oversees the state’s public universities, and 14 of the board’s 17 members are appointed by the governor.
Public postsecondary institutions would also be required, when applicable, to “promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization and include studies of this nation’s historical documents,” the bill states. The proposed legislation would also give boards of trustees broad purview over schools, allowing them to review a faculty member’s tenure at any time and take over faculty hiring without considering academics’ input.
The bill draws a new line in the battle over Florida’s higher education system. DeSantis’ administration previously asked all universities to report their spending on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. At a press conference last month, DeSantis, who is believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, announced legislation that would prohibit funding for critical race theory or diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and seize control of hiring from faculty committees.
“In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition, eliminating politicized bureaucracies like DEI, increasing the amount of research dollars for programs that will feed key industries with talented Florida students, and empowering presidents and boards of trustees to recruit and hire new faculty, including by dedicating record resources for faculty salaries,” DeSantis said in a news release.
A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment Friday on the newly introduced bill.
Students at several of Florida’s public universities have sought to hit back, accusing the governor of restricting academic freedom. On Thursday, students staged a walkout to protest DeSantis’ steps to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public higher education.
“I’m also planning on being a future educator, and I’m a student, and the bottom line of this issue is it’s an attack on education and it’s an attack on freedom of speech,” Florida International University student Ness Cruz said at the protest. “I believe those are probably the two biggest principles that are driving this movement.”