Florida GOP Targets Academic Freedom with Sweeping Legislation Package

In a move that has sparked outrage among students and faculty, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has unveiled a sweeping legislation package that would drastically alter academic freedom at the state’s universities and colleges.[0] On Tuesday, DeSantis met with Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler, and Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, co-founders of Moms for Liberty, to discuss a strategy to identify school board members who, according to the governor, do not protect parental rights and/or shield students from “woke” ideologies.[1]

House Bill 999 put forward by Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, seeks to have all faculty hiring decisions be handled by boards of trustees, permitting a faculty member’s tenure to be evaluated “at any time”, and eliminates majors or minors in areas such as critical race theory and gender studies.[2] This measure would also bar spending on activities that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and establish fresh general education demands. The bill would also require that general education courses at state colleges and universities “promote the values necessary to preserve the constitutional republic” and cannot define American history “as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”[0] It would forbid courses with a curriculum based on theories or exploratory topics that have not been proven.[3]

DeSantis’ promise to prevent colleges and universities from spending money on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives will be fulfilled through this bill. At a press conference earlier this month, Governor DeSantis, who is considering a run for President in 2024, stated that these programs establish an “ideological filter” and his office labeled them as “discriminatory.”[4] This bill forbids universities from financing or endorsing any “programs or campus activities… that advocate diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric” and disallows the utilization of “diversity, equity, and inclusion statements, Critical Race Theory rhetoric, or other sorts of political identity filters as part of the selection process.”

DeSantis also released a list of 14 school board members across the state to target for election defeat, including Nadia Combs and Jessica Vaughn in Hillsborough County, and Laura Hine and Eileen Long in Pinellas County.[5] Several of Florida’s public universities’ students have retaliated against the governor, claiming he has infringed upon their academic freedom.[6]

0. “Florida Republicans’ New Bill May Be the Biggest Attack on Academic Freedom Yet” The New Republic, 22 Feb. 2023, https://newrepublic.com/post/170770/florida-republicans-new-bill-may-biggest-attack-academic-freedom-yet

1. “Jennifer Jenkins makes DeSantis’ target list of school board members” Florida Today, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2023/02/23/jenkins-makes-desantis-list-of-school-board-members-to-target-in-24/69937327007/

2. “Florida bill would end diversity programs, ban majors, shift power at universities” Brunswick News, 23 Feb. 2023, https://thebrunswicknews.com/florida-bill-would-end-diversity-programs-ban-majors-shift-power-at-universities/article_ec7ef61c-f917-5a1e-999b-dc91055f9463.html

3. “Florida bill would give DeSantis more power over state universities and ban gender studies” KAKE, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.kake.com/story/48446797/florida-bill-would-give-desantis-more-power-over-state-universities-and-ban-gender-studies

4. “Florida bill would give DeSantis more power over state universities and ban gender studies” CNN, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/24/politics/ron-desantis-florida-universities-gender-studies/index.html

5. “Lone South Florida School Board Member on Gov. DeSantis’ ‘Target List’ Speaks Out” NBC 6 South Florida, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/lone-south-florida-school-board-member-on-gov-desantis-target-list-speaks-out/2979611/

6. “Florida bill would target diversity studies at state universities” AOL, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.aol.com/news/florida-bill-target-diversity-studies-201440709.html

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