DeSantis Takes Aim at ‘Diversity, Equity, Inclusion’ Efforts on Florida College Campuses
DeSantis has made no bones about his beef with the leftward drift of Florida’s education establishment and what he calls the ‘indoctrination’ of students in the state.
Florida’s combative Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a possible presidential contender, is poised to ramp up his battle against so-called woke ideology on college campuses, if a letter his office sent to the bosses of the state’s college and university systems is any indication.
The letter, sent just before the New Year to the state’s education commissioner, Manny Diaz, and to the chancellor of the state university system, Ray Rodrigues, said the governor’s office was preparing budget proposals ahead of the 2023 legislative session and requested data “regarding the expenditures of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory within our state colleges and universities.”
The letter requested data on the number of staff attached to such programs, the funding spent by each university to support such programs, and the portion of that spending that comes from state sources. The universities were given until January 13 to turn over the information.
Mr. DeSantis has in the past made no bones about his beef with the leftward drift of Florida’s public schools, at both the primary and secondary levels, and what he calls the “indoctrination” of students in the state. His “Stop Woke” act, which has been challenged in court, was aimed at racial instruction in public schools, and a subsequent Parental Rights in Education Act took aim at sexual instruction and gender ideology in lower grades. Now, he appears to be setting his sights more urgently on higher education.
In his second inaugural speech on Tuesday, the governor made clear his intentions. “We must ensure school systems are responsive to parents and to students, not partisan interest groups, and we must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” Mr. DeSantis said.
Florida’s state university system consists of 12 universities spread across the state, among them Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida State, and the flagship University of Florida at Gainesville. The request for information from his office was also directed at the leadership of the 28 community and state colleges that make up the Florida College System.
The universities alone in Florida’s state system had an operating budget of $14.3 billion for the 2021-22 school year, a number that is expected to increase to $14.8 billion for 2022-23. About $2.7 billion of that budget comes from state sources, according to the Florida Department of Education. How much of that expenditure goes toward programs revolving around diversity, equity, and inclusion is unclear from the publicly available budget documents.
A recent study by the conservative Heritage Foundation, though, made the case that university spending on diversity and related programs has swollen in recent years, to the point that there are now more staff devoted to these programs on many campuses than there are, for example, history professors. At the University of Michigan alone, the study found, there are more than 163 staffers dedicated to the programs.
A scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has also studied the issue, Max Eden, welcomed the Florida governor’s effort to shed light on the topic. Republicans, he said, are coming around to the notion that “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” is merely a marketing term for “Applied Critical Race Theory.”
“There is no public interest in funding personnel or programs that aim to impose a divisive and intellectually stultifying orthodoxy on institutions of higher education. Hopefully DeSantis’s request is an opening move toward defunding DEI on campus,” Mr. Eden told the Sun. “Republicans should have taken the initiative on this a decade ago, but hopefully DeSantis’s leadership will, as it has before, spur copycat efforts in other states.”
Some members of the faculty and staff at the Florida colleges and universities — as well as Democratic lawmakers in Tallahassee — are not on board with Mr. DeSantis’s request, however. The head of United Faculty of Florida, a teachers’ union that has sued to block several of Mr. DeSantis’s measures, Andrew Gothard, called the directive “horrible” and said the union is “deeply concerned” by the precedent.
“Attempts such as these by the governor to chill speech and to intimidate those he disagrees with into remaining silent, altering their curriculum, and silencing their students are an affront to democracy and the American way of life,” Mr. Gothard, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, told the News Service of Florida. “Let those who supported Governor DeSantis in the recent election heed this warning: A man who will silence those with whom he disagrees — in the classroom and beyond — will one day find a reason to silence you as well.”
A Democratic state representative of Jacksonville, Angie Nixon, also attacked the initiative. “In the so-called free state of Florida under Gov. DeSantis, the freedom to run DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) programs at public colleges and universities appears next on the radar for destruction. Nothing is safe and it’s sickening,” Ms. Nixon said on Twitter.
Mr. Norvell is Washington Editor of The New York Sun.