DeSantis Bill Mandates Political Control Of Public Colleges


Ron DeSantis

After a series of teasers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released his detailed legislation to turn Florida’s public colleges and universities into right-wing indoctrination factories, and it’s as bad as he promised it would be. DeSantis is, on the one hand, moving to ban virtually any viewpoint he doesn’t like and, on the other hand, setting up a core curriculum that reflects his specific political agenda.

On the banned list: Not only whatever the people DeSantis puts in charge decide are “Critical Race Theory,” but literally all diversity, equity, and inclusion programming. Majors or minors in gender studies. Any general education course that “defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Yes, DeSantis is attempting to write into law that any history that suggests the United States did not always fully live up to the “universal principles” of the Declaration of Independence (a document written by a slave-owner!) is not fit for inclusion as a general education course—the ones that students will be required to take. Those general education courses will be five courses designated within each of five areas (communication, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences) from which students must choose. The direct requirement of the bill would be history courses that didn’t admit to the existence in U.S. history of slavery or the internment of Japanese people during World War II.

“General education core courses may not suppress or distort significant historical events,” according to the bill, and yet they are also required to comply with the ban on anything that “defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” The whole thing is about suppressing and distorting significant historical events.

All of the general education core courses are intended to provide “the education for citizenship of the constitutional republic”—constitutional republic being a big Republican buzzword to assert that the United States is not a democracy. Meanwhile, the core courses in communications “must afford students the ability to communicate effectively, including the ability to write clearly and engage in public speaking, through engagement with the Western literary tradition.” Heaven forbid students learn to communicate effectively, write clearly, and engage in public speaking through engagement with a non-Western literary tradition. We can’t have that!

This will be strictly enforced from above, by people DeSantis appoints for that purpose. Faculty—experts in their fields—will be radically disempowered, forced to teach within the limits DeSantis lays out, or else. The bill talks about “the cultivation of the intellectual autonomy of its undergraduate students,” but its meaning is clear: Faculty are defined as the enemies of intellectual autonomy, which properly belongs only to conservative students who don’t want to learn all that unpleasant stuff about race and gender.

The legislation would weaken faculty tenure, but what’s much worse is what it would do to faculty hiring:

Each state university board of trustees is responsible for hiring faculty for the university. The president of the university may provide hiring recommendations to the board. The president and the board are not required to consider recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups.

These trustees will effectively be DeSantis political appointees—for instance, when he put six new people on the board of trustees at the New College of Florida, they included Christopher Rufo, the right-wing think-tanker whose attacks on public education have included being the architect of the campaign against “critical race theory” in schools; the superintendent of a religious charter school; a dean from Hillsdale College, a private Christian school; and the viciously transphobic president of a conservative think tank. That’s the type of people DeSantis is putting in charge of all faculty hiring in Florida’s public colleges and universities.

And no, this isn’t just a formality where the board won’t really exert control:

The board of trustees may delegate its hiring authority to the president; however, the president may not delegate such hiring authority and the board must approve or deny any selection by the president.

Even if the board doesn’t want to go through all the applications (a number that may shrink as academic jobseekers steer clear of Florida), it will have the final word on each and every person hired to teach Florida’s college students.

On Thursday, college students across Florida protested DeSantis’ plans for their schools.

“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 the University of South Florida, told ABC News, adding, “We want to make our own decisions and our education, how we want to better ourselves. We think it's quite silly that the state would try to restrict that.”

“We’re not here to be spoonfed a sanitized version of history,” USF senior Andy Pham told the crowd at the protest. “If Black people, Indigenous people, all people of color have to confront racism every moment of our waking lives, white folks can certainly handle reading about it.”

Walkouts were also held at the University of Florida, Florida International University, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Poly, New College, the University of North Florida, the University of Central Florida, Rollins College (a private liberal arts college in the state), and Largo High School.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.


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