Florida’s ban on DEI spending becomes official as DeSantis enacts college reforms

Florida’s ban on DEI spending becomes official as DeSantis enacts college reforms

Florida’s ban on DEI spending becomes official as DeSantis enacts college reforms

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Colleges and universities in Florida are no longer allowed to spend their cash on most diversity, equity and inclusion programs under a slate of higher education reforms Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday to curb “woke” ideology on campuses across the state.

Through the sweeping legislation, Florida’s higher education system is set for significant changes in the coming months, with university leaders poised for a widescale review of courses and majors offered to students.

Several of the measures were requested by the Republican governor, a presumptive presidential candidate who claims some colleges are “pursuing more of an agenda than focusing on academics” and that Florida will purge “niche” subjects like critical race theory and “DEI-infused” coursework from its schools.

“Florida is getting out of that game,” DeSantis said during a bill signing at New College of Florida in Sarasota. “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley — go to some of these other places.”

Florida Republicans contend the higher education reforms are meant to strengthen state colleges and universities by gutting programs they consider divisive or feckless. But faculty members and Democrats railed against the policies during the 2023 legislative session, arguing the changes violate academic freedom principles and could hinder recruitment and enrollment of students and faculty alike.

The central legislation enacted Monday, FL S.B. 266 (23R), prohibits Florida schools from spending any state or federal funding on most programs or campus activities that advocate for diversity and inclusion policies or promote political or social activism, something specifically asked for by DeSantis.

Under the wide-ranging changes in the bill, Florida is set to undergo a statewide review of college courses and programs for traces of lessons that assert “systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege” are ingrained in American society. It also spurs officials to reconsider what level courses that broach those subjects or “distort significant historical events” should be available to students and could ultimately lead to the “removal, alignment, realignment, or addition” of courses.

The measure builds on last year’s Stop-WOKE Act pushed by DeSantis to restrict how lessons on race and gender can be taught — policies that Florida is currently blocked from enacting as a legal challenge plays out in federal court.

Critics contend the bill gives too much power to the state university system’s Board of Governors, which is packed with DeSantis appointees, and “politicizes higher education.”

“This is a destructive law that targets diverse students like me and our ability to thrive in higher education institutions,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said in a statement. “It also suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom.”

DeSantis signed the legislation at New College amid an ongoing overhaul of the university led by trustees appointed by the governor. Under the new leadership, New College earlier this year gutted its diversity, equity and inclusion programming — a precursor to what other universities could soon experience under the DeSantis administration. Republican lawmakers agreed to pump an additional $34 million into New College this year to help carry out DeSantis’ mission to turn the campus into a more conservative-leaning “classical” liberal arts school.

Some students quickly gathered on the campus to protest the Monday appearance by DeSantis, lawmakers and state officials such as Christopher Rufo, a New College trustee and conservative activist who has advised the governor on critical race theory. The demonstrators’ loud opposition, a typical occurrence during trustee meetings, drew jeers from lawmakers and officials who classified it as a “kindergarten-level protest.”

“I hope [with] that some of the money that we gave you, you can build classrooms for your drama students outside,” state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville), the Senate’s education budget chief, said Monday.

DeSantis on Monday also signed FL H.B. 931 (23R) to prevent schools from requiring “political loyalty tests” in hiring or admissions and attempting to spur more debates among students. As one example of this, Republicans during session cited a statement from Florida Atlantic University asking medical students how they can “play an active role” in addressing and dismantling systemic racism.

In advocating for the higher education changes, DeSantis and other Republicans have said that the terms diversity, equity and inclusive have been “hijacked” by the left and are “being used as a club to silence things” they disagree with.

“It’s our view that when the taxpayers are funding these institutions, that we as Floridians and we as taxpayers have every right to insist that they are following a mission that is consistent with the best interests of our people and our state,” DeSantis said Monday.

“You don’t just get to take taxpayer dollars and do whatever the heck you want to do and think that’s somehow OK.”


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