The bill centralizes control of core curricula in the hands of political appointees, and bans spending to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, among other restrictions.
The text of DeSantis’ higher education bill has been released, and some are calling it “terrifying.”
“Florida HB 999 would enact the most draconian and censorious restrictions on higher education in the history of this country,” tweeted Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of Free Expression and Education at PENamerica, a nonprofit organization that works to defend free expression in the US and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights. “It’s as terrifying as the press release suggested it would be,” he wrote, adding that “it would be the end of Florida higher education as a space of open inquiry and free expression.”
As outlined in the release, the bill filed by Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) would:
- Centralize control of core curricula and mission statements in the hands of political appointees.
- Remove majors or minors in subjects like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender studies.
- Prohibit spending on activities that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Ban a curriculum that teaches identity politics or defines American history “as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
- Eliminate all general education courses “based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content.”
- Require all faculty hiring to be done by boards of trustees, with the proviso that “the president and the board are not required to consider recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups.”
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An Ongoing Battle
This is not the only effort by the DeSantis administration to control public and higher education across the Sunshine State.
DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, which limits what schools can teach about race and gender identity, among other aspects of history, used a slide during the training that claimed that the “founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue.” This alarmed some teachers, who categorized the program as “Christian fundamentalist.”
In July of 2022 DeSantis appeared at a summit held by the conservative group Moms for Liberty and built a roster of school board candidates starting with a questionnaire in which he asked them to sign a certificate to pledge their support to him. And during that year’s election cycle, the governor endorsed more than two dozen school board candidates, which came with $1,000 cash contributions from DeSantis and other Republican lawmakers.
Additionally, in January of 2023, DeSantis’ handpicked trustee at the New College of Florida, a haven for marginalized students, outlined his intentions to call for the demotion of the university’s current president, and terminate the contracts of all university faculty, staff, and administration before launching a rehiring process. The goal, critics say, is to model the school after Hillsdale, a conservative college in Michigan.
The Republican governor is now suggesting that maybe Florida can do without the College Board, which each year helps students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success. These include the SAT, the Advanced Placement Program, and BigFuture.
Marching for Freedom
In response to all this, and particularly DeSantis’ attacks on AP courses, on Thursday hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms at the University of South Florida, University of Florida, Florida State University, and more. Many high school students also joined the March for Freedom.
“We want to take these classes and for the state to come in and say, ‘Well, we might not want to allow you to have that’ … At what point are college students going to be considered adults by the state of Florida?” Jonathon Chavez, president of College Democrats at USF, told ABC News.
Others see the state’s Republican government’s position as a threat for the very soul of higher education.
“Free expression and higher education advocates must fight these provisions with everything we have,” says Young from PENamerica. “FL HB 999 is the central battleground for the soul of higher education. If we stand on the sidelines, we will lose.”