Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he plans to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs in every Florida university, another move in his push to upend higher education in the state.
The governor and potential 2024 presidential hopeful laid out a list of higher education “reforms” his administration aims to carry out, including banning DEI programs that help universities create a more supportive and inclusive space for staff and students from marginalized backgrounds. The state legislature will need to approve the plans before they go into effect.
“We are also going to eliminate all DEI and [critical race theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida. No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis said. “And I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter.”
The governor equated mandatory DEI trainings as “imposing an agenda” that constitutes “a drain on resources,” and claimed that having universities include diversity statements is no different than “making people take a political oath.”
The announcement is DeSantis’ latest attempt at turning Florida’s higher education spaces into incubators for far-right ideas. The governor has already unsuccessfully tried to ban workplace diversity initiatives. He also pushed right-wing higher education officials to ban discussions of “critical race theory” and prides himself on the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.
Last week, the Florida Board of Education approved a training for public schools that focuses on preventing children from reading books about racial justice and books with LGBTQ themes. DeSantis also recently announced a statewide ban on a new Advanced Placement course on African American history ― a move that led some high school students to accuse the governor of censoring public education.
Earlier this month, DeSantis appointed conservatives to the board of New College of Florida, a state liberal arts school he has claimed is too focused on racial and gender issues. The college of fewer than 1,000 students is considered a safe haven for students from marginalized backgrounds, particularly the LGBTQ community.
The governor said Tuesday that the school’s DEI programs are “part of the reason I think it hasn’t been successful,” and that he hopes his new board appointments will help turn the college into Florida’s version of Hillsdale College, a private Christian university in Michigan.
With the small college’s new conservative-leaning board of trustees, DeSantis announced that he wants $15 million “immediately” for faculty recruitment and scholarships at the school, with $10 million of that being annual recurring funds.
The announcement came hours before New College’s first board meeting since DeSantis’ new appointments. At the meeting, trustees will discuss the possibility of ending faculty tenure, terminating all employee contracts and rehiring anyone who aligns with the school’s “new financial and business model,” one of the new trustees said.
Many New College students and faculty have voiced concerns about the new board and anticipated changes to the school, defending its inclusivity and long-held progressive policies.
“The vast majority of people on campus don’t want this,” student Sam Sharf, a trans woman, told The Associated Press of the school’s anticipated conservative change. “They would erase a lot of things on campus. I don’t want to be in a place that tries to erase my existence.”