DeSantis wants to know how much Florida colleges spend on 'trendy ideology'
Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked Florida colleges and universities to report costs associated with campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs, the latest move by state leaders to monitor how schools and higher education institutions teach about race.
A Dec. 28 memo shared Wednesday by DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin requires the state's 12 universities and 28 state colleges to complete a "comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory."
The memo also requires institutions to include the number of positions and amount of funding dedicated to each program as well as how much of that cost is state funding. The deadline for responses is next Friday.
DeSantis slammed “woke ideology” in his second inauguration address Tuesday and indicated he plans to focus on higher education in his second term.
“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,” DeSantis said.
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While the memo didn't cite a reason for the request, or how the state will use the information, the memo said it was important the governor's office has "a full understanding of the operational expenses of state institutions."
It also refers to a state law that includes parts of last year's House Bill 7, coined by DeSantis as the "Stop WOKE" Act. The bill, one of the governor's top priorities during the most recent lawmaking session, sought to restrict how K-12 schools, universities and colleges, and workplaces talked about race, gender and sexuality.
However, portions of the law that applied to universities were blocked in November by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his ruling that limits on such discussions in university classrooms were "positively dystopian."
“The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Walker wrote.
DeSantis is appealing the ruling.
At the University of Florida, department chairs were asked to begin compiling the information DeSantis requested through a spreadsheet, said Meera Sitharam, vice president of the university's United Faculty of Florida chapter.
Sitharam had some hunches on how the DeSantis Administration would use the information. At best, she said, it would be included in the state's response to Walker's ruling. At worst, it's a "direct attempt at smothering academic freedom via state purse-strings," she said.
At least one Florida professor shared Wednesday his response to DeSantis' request. Nick Seabrook, chair of the University of North Florida's Department of Political Science and Public Administration, wrote that he was struggling to respond to the request "due to its lack of specificity," according to a screenshot he posted on Twitter.
"In particular, the information communicated to chairs does not contain a definition of either 'diversity, equity, and inclusion' or 'critical race theory,'" the email said, "both of which are subjects of considerable controversy regarding their precise scope and meaning."
DeSantis has repeatedly faced criticism for eroding academic freedom. Along with the federal court ruling on the "Stop WOKE" Act, Walker also has scheduled a trial to start Jan. 9 on a two-year-old law requiring "intellectual freedom" surveys to be distributed to faculty, students and employees at colleges and universities. United Faculty of Florida, the education union, has sued claiming it is a First Amendment violation that will stifle open discussion on campuses.
Survey says:Florida students ignore lawmakers' free speech survey; expert calls response rate dismal
DeSantis this year also signed a law that could make it more difficult for faculty to retain tenure, which has been a standard at universities since the 1940s. Tenure was enacted to blunt political interference and give faculty freedom to discuss and research controversial topics without fear of dismissal.
That new law also requires Florida universities to change accreditation agencies every five to 10 years. The provision was viewed by critics as retaliation by DeSantis after the current agency used by most schools criticized the University of Florida for attempting to deny two professors from testifying as expert witnesses in a voting rights lawsuit.
USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida reporters Zac Anderson and John Kennedy contributed to this report.
Kathryn Varn is statewide enterprise reporter for the Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 238-5315.