DeSantis' new law defunds DEI programs in Florida state universities. What does it mean?

Brandon Girod
Pensacola News Journal

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that will ban state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida’s public universities.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that a New College board revamped by DeSantis abolished the school’s DEI office, and the college's interim president recently fired the diversity dean, a precursor to what other Florida universities could experience under SB 266, which was a centerpiece of DeSantis' aggressive legislative agenda this year.

DeSantis also signed HB 931 and SB 240, which prohibit Florida colleges from requiring students, faculty or staff to sign in support of DEI and expand apprenticeship programs respectively.

Here’s a broad look at what DEI is in education and how the legislation will affect Florida universities.

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What does the new legislation do?

The new law (SB 266) bars Florida state universities from spending state or federal funds to to promote, support or maintain any programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.”

How gender and race are taught on Florida campuses will be restricted under the new law. It requires university officials to review any lessons “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequities.”

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Critics are concerned that the new law could dissuade students from enrolling in Florida universities.

"We're already starting to see a brain drain from our state institutions," Matthew Lata, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Music, told the Democrat in April.

What does DEI mean?

DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. Studies by McKinsey & Company, a business focused on accelerating sustainable and inclusive growth, show that there are “clear correlations” between diversity and business performance.

In its latest “Diversity Wins” report, the company showed that analysis of 2019 data indicated that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity within executive teams were 25 percent more likely than companies in the fourth quartile to have above-average profitability (up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014).

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What is DEI in education?

In education, DEI typically refers to strategies, policies and practices that provide all students equal access to educational opportunities, regardless of their background, identity or abilities.

When put into practice, implementing DEI strategies in education can include updating curriculum to reflect diverse perspectives, providing teachers with training on bias and cultural competency and making efforts to increase diversity among staff. Creating an educational environment where all students can succeed is the overall goal.

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What are diversity, equity and inclusion programs?

DEI-related programs in education can vary significantly from one institution to another. They can touch on everything from the hiring process to enrollment and even how curriculum is shaped.

Here are some common examples of DEI-related programs:

Diversity training for educators — Many schools and universities have started providing diversity and inclusion training for teachers, professors and other staff, which often includes instruction on understanding bias, promoting cultural competency and teaching in a way that respects and addresses the needs of students from diverse backgrounds.

Strategies for increasing diverse representation — The American Council on Education has outlined strategies for increasing representation in hiring practices.

Support services — Some schools provide additional support services for marginalized or disadvantaged groups, such as tutoring programs, counseling services and resources for students with disabilities.

In higher education, the new law could affect programs that recruit and retain students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, and even DEI-related courses.