Supporters of the Florida Senate’s Ban on ”DEI’ Funding for Universities

The Florida Senate passed a measure on Friday that may affect general education requirements and ban institutions from investing in diversity, equality, and inclusion programs. The bill’s passage came amid a heated discussion about the role of government in higher education.

Despite Democratic arguments that the bill (SB 266) could damage the reputation of Florida’s higher education system, the Republican-dominated Senate voted to pass it 27-12, almost entirely along party lines. Fleming Island’s Republican senator, Jennifer Bradley, joined Democrats in rejecting the measure.

The possible effects of the measure on educational programs were a major point of discussion. This legislation would mandate the establishment of faculty committees charged with evaluating the state’s mandatory general education curriculum by the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors of the state university system.

Course evaluations might result in “removal, alignment, realignment, or addition” depending on the criteria used.

“General education core courses may not distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics” or in contravention of a state statute that limits the instruction of certain racial notions.

There was no way such programs could be “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”

According to Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton), the bill is an attempt to “legislate our culture.” She contended that the law, together with other legislative initiatives, will drive students and professors away from colleges.

“I think all of that just puts sort of an authoritarian feel to our really well-respected, very highly ranked public universities,” Polsky said, adding that her son is a student at one of the institutions.“So it’s very concerning to me to see the direction that we’re taking.”However, Republican from Vero Beach and bill sponsor Erin Grall assured the public that the law would not silence debate.

“There’s nothing in this bill that prohibits facts from being talked about. There’s nothing in this bill that prohibits theories from being discussed,” Grall remarked.

The legislation’s goal is to make it illegal for institutions to use local, state, or federal monies to “promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities” that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Spending on “promotion or engagement in political or social activism,” as defined by the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors, would also be forbidden.

Supporters of the Florida Senate's Ban on ''DEI' Funding for Universities
Supporters of the Florida Senate’s Ban on ”DEI’ Funding for Universities


Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for the elimination of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) projects in the state’s universities, and that provision of the proposal would go a long way toward making that goal a reality.

St. Petersburg Democrat Sen. Darryl Rouson argued against outlawing these kinds of spending.

“We worked hard in this state to create an atmosphere of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Rouson added.

But Grall inferred that the bill only affects “certain types” of DEI programs.

The measure “refers to entities that advocate for a certain type of diversity, equity, and inclusion to institutionalize a particular worldview and use it to suppress anyone with a dissenting opinion,” Grall added.

Grall said that the beliefs that would be the focus of the proposed general education standards “are theories that in fact divide us.”

Policy here “says we are not going to have students enter our universities and be taught, from the outset of their higher education experience, how to divide themselves from other parts and other people in our society and community,” Grall explained.

One of the bill’s suggested amendments is to give university presidents full hiring authority. The House version of a comparable measure (HB 999) is in the final stages of preparation for floor debate.

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