Gov. Ron DeSantis

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a January 31, 2023 news conference at the State College of Florida in Bradenton.

(Photo: Ron DeSantis/Twitter)

DeSantis Targets Diversity Programs, Tenured Professors in 'Unhinged'​ Attack on Higher Ed

The union representing Florida's professors said it would "stand in lockstep 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."

Taking aim yet again at higher education, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes to the state's university system, including banning state funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and critical race theory education, as well as forcing tenured professors to undergo reviews at any time.

Speaking during a press conference at the State College of Florida in Bradenton, DeSantis said he is asking the state Legislature to cut all funding for programs he believes are "ideological."

Referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs—which aim to promote fair treatment and full participation—and critial race theory, a graduate-level framework dealing with systemic racism, DeSantis said that "we're also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies in the state of Florida. No funding, and that will wither on the vine."

Apparently not satisfied with a state law requiring tenured professors at state colleges and universities to undergo reviews every five years, DeSantis also called for legislation that would subject such educators to reviews at any time, at risk of their jobs.

"Yes, we have the five-year review of all the tenured faculty, which is, which is good… and the board of trustees has to determine whether they stay or go. But you may need to do review more aggressively than just five," he said.

"I've talked with folks around the country who've been involved in higher ed reform, and the most significant deadweight cost at universities is typically unproductive tenured faculty," the governor added. "And so why would we want to saddle you as taxpayers with that cost if we don't have to do that?"

United Faculty of Florida (UFF), the union representing college and university educators in the state, said it would fight DeSantis' proposals.

"The United Faculty of Florida stand in lockstep 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," UFF President Andrew Gothard said in a statement. "We will not allow Florida's future to be sacrificed for cheap political points."

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Francie Diep and Emma Pettit contended that "it's been a dizzying month for higher ed in the Sunshine State."

As the authors explained:

The recent avalanche of activity began in late December, when DeSantis' office requested that state colleges and universities list their spending on programs related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and critical race theory. Florida's Republican House Speaker, Paul Renner, later asked the same campuses to turn over a mountain of additional DEI-related information.

DeSantis' office also requested that state universities report data on transgender students, and he appointed six new trustees to the New College of Florida's board because, according to his press secretary, the small liberal arts institution has put "trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning."

"What I find most troubling is that DeSantis is putting out a blueprint for other governors and state legislatures,” Kristen A. Renn—a professor at Michigan State University who researches LGBTQ+ college issues—told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "He's doing these things in ways that anybody else can pick this up and do it."

DeSantis—a potential 2024 presidential candidate—has also come under fire for other policies and actions including rejecting a college preparatory African-American studies course, banning unapproved books from K-12 libraries, and the Stop WOKE Act, a CRT ban that applies to schools from the primary through university levels and is meant to combat what the governor called "wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism."

Mia Brett, legal historian at The Editorial Board, last week compared Republicans' attacks on education across the country to similar moves by the leaders of Nazi Germany during the early months of their regime.

"I'm not being hyperbolic when I say this is directly out of Nazi laws passed in 1933. Though if this Republican effort is successful, you might not be able to learn things like that anymore," she wrote, adding that the legislation banning courses on CRT and racial and gender identity are a "chilling erosion of academic freedom and a huge step toward fascist academic control in the service of right-wing narratives."

"While it's still legal to teach history, remember where such efforts have led and take them seriously," Brett ominously warned.

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