Florida Law Defunds DEI in Higher Ed
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on Monday signed three bills to excise woke ideology from state higher education institutions and promote productive education goals.
SB 266 will “prohibit institutions from spending federal or state dollars on discriminatory initiatives, such as so called ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)’ programs,” the governor’s office summarized in a press release. HB 931 will “prohibit Florida’s public institutions from requiring students, faculty, or staff to take political loyalty tests,” and SB 240 will “expand workforce education programs and increase access to career and technical education (CTE) programs.”
The first of these laws doubles down on Florida Republicans’ efforts last year to crack down on woke ideology in institutions of higher education. SB 266 forbids “a Florida College System institution” to “expend any state or federal funds” on “any programs or campus activities that: (a) Violate s. 1000.05; or (b) Advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI], or promote or engage in political or social activism.”
The first prohibited category (violations of s. 1000.05) refers to a section of Florida law dealing with discrimination in K-20 public education, which the Individual Freedom Act (a.k.a. Stop Woke Act) modified last year. The Stop Woke Act added paragraphs stating that “it shall constitute discrimination … to subject any student or employee to training or instruction that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such student or employee to believe any of the following concepts.” The list that followed included foundational tenets of critical race theory (CRT) and other leftist ideologies, such as “A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”
In October, a federal judge in the Northern District of Florida temporarily blocked Florida officials from enforcing this section of the law, on the grounds that it ran afoul of First Amendment Freedom of Speech.
Following this legal setback, Florida Republicans devised a different approach to achieve their original objective — eliminating woke programming on academic campuses. It began with Governor DeSantis ordering all state universities and colleges “to provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities” related to DEI or CRT. Within days, the same parties who had challenged the Stop Woke Act complained that Florida was violating the judge’s preliminary injunction against portions of the Stop Woke Act. However, the judge denied the motion on the grounds that the injunction had not been violated.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid another free speech challenge, SB 266 does provide an exception from its DEI funding ban for “student fees to support student-led organizations” and “use of institution facilities by student-led organizations.”
SB 266 also enacted other DeSantis objectives for higher education. It directed the Board of Governors to review the mission and curriculum of each university, gave university presidents (as opposed to less accountable academic departments) final authority over hiring full-time faculty, and prohibited left-wing loyalty pledges as a condition of employment. These changes are among those DeSantis set forth in his January 31 education agenda “to focus on promoting academic excellence, the pursuit of truth, and to give students the foundation so they can think for themselves.”
In addition to SB 266, DeSantis also signed HB 931, which states that “a public institution of higher education may not … Require or solicit a person to complete a political loyalty test as a condition of employment or admission into, or promotion within, such institution.” It also bars universities and colleges from giving “preferential consideration” for employment, admission, or promotion based on “an opinion or actions in support of: a. A partisan, a political, or an ideological set of beliefs; or b. Another person or group of persons based on the person’s or group’s race or ethnicity or support of an ideology or movement … that promotes the differential treatment of a person or a group of persons based on race or ethnicity.” This prohibition encompasses university diversity statements (not academic diversity but identity diversity), which require university staff to affirm a DEI agenda as a condition of employment.
While DeSantis’ educational initiatives make headlines for countering woke ideology, they reflect a fundamentally positive vision, not one that is negative or contrarian. Rather, the goal is to remove politics from education, thus “empowering students, parents, and educators to focus on creating opportunities for our younger generations,” said DeSantis. This mission, to prepare young people to be productive members of society, is reflected in the third bill DeSantis signed, SB 240, which will “expand workforce education programs and increase access to career and technical education (CTE) programs.”
Unsurprisingly, left-wing activists like the ACLU of Florida dislike Florida’s higher education reforms, which demolish the barriers protecting left-wing academic hegemony. But every significant reform will face opposition. Ray Rodrigues, Chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said the legislature and DeSantis were “re-orienting our distinguished universities to missions that treat people as individuals, that reward merit and achievement, and center on recruiting excellent faculty while creating the talent pipeline necessary to fuel Florida’s future.” Making the right enemies is worth it, for the right reasons.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.