Diversity Spending Is Banned in Florida’s Public Colleges

Public colleges in Florida will soon be prohibited from spending money on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs after Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a much-discussed piece of legislation into law on Monday.

The new law also bans colleges from offering general-education courses that “distort significant historical events,” teach “identity politics,” or are “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States.”

“Florida’s getting out of that game,” DeSantis said during a news conference on Monday. “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley.”

The legislation underwent several revisions before it was passed by the state legislature this month. The final version, which takes effect on July 1, bans public colleges from spending state or federal funding on DEI unless it is required by federal law.

The law also includes an exception for mandates related to obtaining or retaining accreditation, both for institutions and for specific programs — but either the State Board of Education or the State University System of Florida’s Board of Governors would have to sign off first. The law also bars accreditors from forcing colleges to break state law.

A provision that would have made it easier to fire tenured professors was watered down. Still, SB 266 will enshrine into state law a requirement that tenured professors go up for evaluation every five years. A new post-tenure review process adhering to the five-year cycle was already put into place by the Board of Governors this spring.

SB 266 has drawn criticism from students, faculty, and community members, some of whom protested at Monday’s signing ceremony at New College of Florida.

Jeremy C. Young, Freedom to Learn program director at the free-speech organization PEN America, said the new law may lead to a “tragic exodus” of students, faculty, and staff from Florida’s colleges. “This is a dark day for public higher education in Florida,” Young said. “SB 266 will do incalculable damage to Florida’s higher-education institutions.”

The legislation accomplishes several of DeSantis’s higher-ed priorities, according to a handout distributed by his office on Monday. It’s one of dozens of bills nationwide aimed at curbing diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher ed. At least 34 bills that would restrict colleges’ diversity efforts have been introduced in 20 states, according to The Chronicle’s DEI legislation tracker. So far, four have garnered final legislative approval.

DeSantis signed two other education bills into law on Monday. HB 931 bars “political loyalty” tests in hiring and admissions and requires each public university to have an “Office of Public Policy Events” that oversees campus speakers and ensures that they represent “multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives.” The other, SB 240, scales up apprenticeship programs.

At the news conference, DeSantis said young people who studied trades like truck driving and welding are making better money than students who got degrees in “things like zombie studies.”

Later during the event, Richard Corcoran, the interim president of New College of Florida, took the stage and made a joke about the protesters outside.

“I told staff last night to turn off the air conditioning in the dorms,” Corcoran said, prompting laughter from the audience. “If you listen carefully, they’re saying ‘turn the air back on.’”

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