February 24, 2023
Over the last several months, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has amped up attacks on what he has deemed a dangerous status quo in public higher education, which he claims bludgeons students with “woke” liberal values.
DeSantis has mandated Florida’s public colleges and universities detail their spending on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. He executed what his critics call a conservative takeover of the public liberal arts institution New College of Florida, where he installed several far-right voices to the trustee board, as well as one of his most visible allies, former state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, as president.
He’s not done yet.
DeSantis’ broadsides against public postsecondary education culminated late last month with a promise to take legislative action to annihilate systems that perpetuate “identity politics and indoctrination.”
The proposed legislation DeSantis sought was introduced Tuesday. Sponsored by a House Republican who has taken up some of the governor’s other legislative priorities, the bill would upend some of the longest standing conventions of American higher education and introduce an unprecedented degree of state control, like forcing institutions to abandon gender studies programs.
Free expression advocates have characterized the proposal as censorious and draconian.
Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida, the union representing broad contingents of Florida institutions’ instructors, said it will fight the bill with all of its power. DeSantis hasn’t been able to produce a single example of higher ed brainwashing students, Gothard said. But with this bill, he is instead mandating a state-sponsored form of indoctrination, “fascism in its purest form,” he said.
Some of the bill’s provisions may also conflict with accreditor standards, like ensuring preservation of shared governance. Accreditors serve as gatekeepers for colleges to access federal Title IV money.
Below we summarize parts of the bill, which likely will see support in the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature.