Florida‘s Republican lawmakers are pushing forward with bills that would significantly restrict the discussion of race in college classrooms and starve diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across the state‘s public colleges and universities of funding.
The legislation has been met with fierce opposition from academics and First Amendment advocates who see the bills as a flagrant attempt by the state government to encroach on academic freedom.
The bills, which were advanced this week, would prevent colleges from funding DEI programs and forbid them from offering general education courses that discuss systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege. The legislation also prohibits the use of state or federal funds for DEI advocacy but allows for exceptions for programs needed to comply with federal law.
The legislation is part of a broader effort by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to dismantle DEI programs and stop discussions about racism in the United States. DeSantis has criticized the programs as “woke“ and racially divisive.
First Amendment lawyer Joe Cohn said the legislation is “wildly unconstitutional“ and that any time the government bans an idea from the classroom, they‘re violating the First Amendment.
Critics of the bills say they are racist at their core, while supporters say the legislation is meant to model how to have conversations “about topics that are dividing our country.”
DeSantis‘ spokesman Jeremy T. Redfern said in a statement it was “encouraging to see the legislature taking up this important topic and joining the conversation that the governor began with his legislative proposals for higher education reform in Florida.”
“The governor is committed to ensuring that the DEI and CRT bureaucracies are cut off and wither on the vine,” Redfern added, referring to critical race theory.
The bills now head to the floor for a vote and, if passed, will likely make their way to DeSantis‘ desk. It remains to be seen how the governor will respond, but it‘s clear that the fight over diversity, equity and inclusion in Florida‘s public colleges and universities is far from over.