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.
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.”
Mr. DeSantis’s embrace of civics education, as well as the establishment of special civics programs at several of the state’s 12 public universities, dovetails with the growth of similar programs around the country, some partially funded by conservative donors.
The programs emphasize the study of Western civilization and economics, as well as the thinking of Western philosophers, frequently focusing on the Greeks and Romans. Critics of the programs say they sometimes gloss over the pitfalls of Western thinking and ignore the philosophies of non-Western civilizations.
“The core curriculum must be grounded in actual history, the actual philosophy that has shaped Western civilization,” Mr. DeSantis said. “We don’t want students to go through, at taxpayer expense, and graduate with a degree in Zombie studies.”
After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.
The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.
And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.
When it announced the A.P. course in August, the College Board clearly believed it was providing a class whose time had come, and it was celebrated by eminent scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard as an affirmation of the importance of African American studies. But the course, which is meant to be for all students of diverse backgrounds, quickly ran into a political buzz saw after an early draft leaked to conservative publications like The Florida Standard and National Review.
In January, Governor DeSantis of Florida, who is expected to run for president, announced he would ban the curriculum, citing the draft version. State education officials said it was not historically accurate and violated state law that regulates how race-related issues are taught in public schools.
The attack on the A.P. course turned out to be the prelude to a much larger agenda. On Tuesday, Governor DeSantis unveiled a proposal to overhaul higher education that would eliminate what he called “ideological conformity” by among other things, mandating courses in Western civilization.
In another red flag, the College Board faced the possibility of other opposition: more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against critical race theory, according to a tracking project by the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.
David Coleman, the head of the College Board, said in an interview that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons, not to bow to political pressure. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said. The changes, he said, came from “the input of professors” and “longstanding A.P. principles.”
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