Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he intends to ban state universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, hoping they will “wither on the vine” without funding.
“It really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter,” the Republican said while speaking in Bradenton, Florida.
The proposal is a top priority of DeSantis’ higher education agenda this year, which also includes giving politically appointed presidents and university boards more power over university hiring and firing and urging schools to focus their missions on Florida’s future workforce needs. DeSantis, who is said to be weighing a potential presidential run in 2024, has seen his standing among conservatives rise across the country following his public stances on hot-button cultural and educational issues.
In a press release about the announced legislation, the governor’s office called diversity, equity and inclusion programs “discriminatory” and vowed to prohibit universities from funding them, even if the source of the money does not come from the state.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs are intended to promote multiculturalism and encourage students of all races and backgrounds to feel comfortable in a campus environment, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities. The state’s flagship school, the University of Florida, has a “Chief Diversity Officer,” a “Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement,” and an “Office for Accessibility and Gender Equity.”
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Tuesday’s announcement was foreshadowed in December when the governor’s office asked all state universities to account for all their spending on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory.
DeSantis announced his higher education agenda in Bradenton, a 15-minute drive from New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college where DeSantis has installed a controversial new board with a mandate to transform the school into his conservative vision for higher education. DeSantis said his budget will include $15 million to restructure New College and hire faculty.
The new board met Tuesday, leading to protests on campus.
One of DeSantis’ new board members, Eddie Speir, wrote in an online post that at that meeting he planned to propose “terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration” at the school, “and immediately rehire those faculty, staff and administration , which fits into the new financial and business model.”
DeSantis’ announcement follows a commitment earlier this month by the presidents of the state’s two-year community colleges not to teach critical race theory in a vacuum and to “not fund or support any institutional practice, policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality, or the idea that systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed and/or improved.”
The state education department characterized the move as a rejection of “woke” diversity, equity and inclusion [and] critical race theoretical ideologies.”