Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he intends to ban state universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in hopes that 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 for DeSantis’ higher education agenda this year, which also includes giving politically appointed presidents and university boards of trustees more power over hiring and firing at universities and urging schools to focus their missions on Florida’s future workforce needs. DeSantis, who is said to be weighing a potential 2024 presidential bid, has seen his standing among conservatives soar nationwide following his public stances on hot-button cultural and education issues.
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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 isn’t coming 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 setting, 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.”
Tuesday’s announcement was foreshadowed in December when the governor’s office asked all state universities to account for all of 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 remake 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 on Tuesday, leading to protests on the campus.
One of DeSantis’ new board members, Eddie Speir, wrote in an online post that he planned to propose in that meeting “terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration” of the school, “and immediately rehiring those faculty, staff and administration who fit in the new financial and business model.”
DeSantis’ announcement follows a commitment earlier this month from the presidents of the state’s two-year community colleges to not 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 upon.”
The state’s education department characterized the move as a rejection of “‘woke’ diversity, equity and inclusion [and] critical race theory ideologies.”