Professors in Florida protested against a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration that colleges and universities give state leaders information about resources used for activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.
Florida’s Office of Budget and Policy sent the memo to state universities on Dec. 28 requesting information about how state resources were used to benefit DEI and CRT programs.
The requested information included descriptions of any programs, activities, or positions pertaining to DEI or CRT.
Nick Seabrook, University of North Florida professor, tweeted his response to the Governor’s office request Wednesday, in which he stated the order lacked a specific definition of DEI or CRT.
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He claimed that the order is an attempt to stifle free speech and academic freedom and “punish institutions that deviate from the administration’s approved curriculum.”
Seabrook implored alumni and donors to call university presidents to express opposition to DeSantis’ order, unifying around the claim that DeSantis “wants to pit us against each other in a race to the bottom for funding.”
Emilio Bruna, University of Florida professor, said that the order will make it harder for universities to recruit faculty, staff, and students if they are forced to cut back on DEI/CRT programming. He also accused DeSantis Thursday of using universities to “advance his presidential ambitions.”
Amanda Phalin, chairwoman of the UF Faculty Senate, said the directive sends a “chilling message” to colleges and universities.
“Faculty take seriously our fiduciary duty to steward public resources effectively to advance the interests of the state and its diverse citizens. In the absence of transparency, this request sends a chilling message that anyone who engages with topics that elected officials deem controversial is not welcome in the state of Florida,” Phalin said in a statement.
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Chris Spencer, director of DeSantis’ Office of Policy and Budget, issued the directive in a Dec. 28 memo to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. and state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues.
Spencer gave Diaz and Rodrigues a Jan. 13 deadline to collect from colleges and universities “a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.”
The information is required to include a description of the programs and activities, the costs and paid positions involved in operating them, and how much of the money is provided by the state.
After the memo became public this week, United Faculty of Florida President Andrew Gothard called the request an attempt to “outlaw ideas” that DeSantis disagrees with.
DeSantis, meanwhile, took aim Tuesday at what he called “the imposition of trendy ideology” in higher education while delivering an inaugural address to start his second term as governor.
Criticism rained down from Florida politicos. Democratic state Rep. Ashley Gantt, who wrote in her Twitter bio that she is a “former educator,” tweeted Wednesday that the order is an attempt to “remediate” history and slammed it as “censorship.”
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Julian Duque, press assistant for Democratic Rep. Darern Soto, tweeted Thursday that DEI offices are “vital and should be independent of government influence.” He praised the office staffers for doing “amazing work.”
Out-of-state professors also rushed to defend DEI and CRT in the classroom. Courtney Young, University of Houston professor, tweeted that “DeSantis is a horrible person,” and Jonathan Feingold, a Boston University law professor, claimed that “if cancel culture were a memo, it would look something like this.”