Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday rolled out a slate of higher education proposals that included eliminating spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, a move the governor said would lead such programs to “wither on the vine.”
DeSantis also announced proposals involving the frequency of post-tenure reviews for faculty members and the state setting new “core course requirements” at colleges and universities.
DeSantis’ announcement came weeks after his administration directed leaders of the college and university systems to collect information from schools about diversity, equity and inclusion-related expenditures. The requirement included the University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville.
During an appearance Tuesday at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota in Bradenton, DeSantis criticized what he called “DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) bureaucracies.”
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“This is basically a component of the administration within universities that are imposing a political agenda, sometimes things like critical race theory,” DeSantis said. “The bureaucracies are hostile to academic freedom, and really they constitute a drain on resources and end up contributing, certainly around the country, to higher costs as the bureaucracies metastasize.”
After his administration directed collection of the information, the state released a report about expenditures related to diversity, equity and inclusion. The report outlined some universities spending millions of dollars on programs and staff positions, in some cases with much of that funding coming from the state. Some universities also listed specific courses that involve diversity, equity and inclusion concepts.
Information submitted by UNF showed $3,518,349 in diversity-related expenses, according to a review by WJCT News. A total of $1,788,856 is paid by the state.
With DeSantis’ proposal Tuesday, the Republican-dominated Legislature could put such expenditures in the crosshairs during the legislative session that will start in March.
“No funding, and that will wither on the vine. And I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter,” DeSantis said, adding that he plans to try to prohibit universities from requiring prospective employees to sign diversity, equity and inclusion statements.
Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida union, slammed the governor’s proposal.
“The words themselves, ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion,’ show that these programs are not just about race; they are about ensuring that everyone has fair and equal access to Florida’s higher education classrooms,” Gothard said in a statement provided to The News Service of Florida.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, also criticized the governor’s plan.
“Diversity, equity and inclusivity programs will also include disability and accessibility services — I guess DeSantis wants to abolish those too,” Eskamani said in a Twitter post.
DeSantis also touted proposed legislation that would allow college and university officials to have more control over reviewing faculty members’ tenure.
Under a controversial measure passed last year, university faculty members are required to undergo a “comprehensive post-tenure review” every five years. DeSantis’ announcement Tuesday suggested the governor wants to give power to university trustees and presidents to perform the reviews more often.
DeSantis said schools might need to do reviews “more aggressively” than every five years.
“I’ve talked with folks around the country who have been involved in higher-ed reform, and the most significant dead-weight cost at universities is typically unproductive tenured faculty. So, why would we want to saddle you as taxpayers with that cost if we don’t have to do that?” DeSantis said.
Another prong of the governor’s proposals would deal with academic content. An infographic released by the governor’s office said the proposal would “specify standards and content for general education core course requirements to ensure higher education is rooted in the values of liberty and the western tradition.”
University system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, a former state senator who joined DeSantis at Tuesday’s appearance, backed the proposal.
“We will be focused on academic excellence at all of our institutions. We pursue the goal of education, and we reject indoctrination,” Rodrigues said.
Gothard, however, called the proposal dealing with classroom instruction part of an effort to “curtail speech, belief and association” on campuses.
“Florida’s students and families don’t need their government to tell them which classes they can take, which degrees they can complete, or what kinds of campus activities they can engage in,” Gothard said. “The constitutional rights promised to all Americans do not come with an asterisk that says ‘unless Gov. DeSantis disagrees with you.’”
Meanwhile, as the governor prepares to release his 2023-2024 state budget recommendations, he said he plans to ask the Legislature to approve $100 million to recruit new faculty at universities.