Gov. DeSantis signs 3 education bills that include targeting diversity programs at Florida universities

From New College of Florida – where its Board of Trustees was revamped earlier this year – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several education reform bills that include prohibiting colleges and universities from spending money on diversity programs.

A total of three bills were signed Monday: SB 266, HB 931, and SB 240. The new laws also ban teaching certain courses that focus on race relations, schools must submit lists of courses to the state education department, and college presidents will have final approval of personnel decisions. 

The governor also signed a separate bill that will prevent colleges and universities from requiring "political loyalty" tests for students and employees as a condition of admission or employment.

University system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues joined DeSantis for a bill-signing event at New College of Florida — the small liberal-arts school in Sarasota that has become a focus of the push by DeSantis and other state leaders to remake higher education.

"In reality, what this concept of DEI has been is an attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university. And not even necessarily in the classroom, but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself," DeSantis said.

During Monday's press conference, dozens of protesters outside the venue were heard throughout the speech portion of the event. 

"I was disappointed. I thought there would be more," DeSantis joked.

"This is my fault. I told them to turn the AC off in the dorms," said Interim President Richard Corcoran.

He was at New College of Florida to highlight changes he made to the makeup of the small liberal arts college. DeSantis appointed several board members which led to a conservative takeover of the leadership, including the school presidency.

"This has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda, and that is wrong," Desantis stated. "In fact, if you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country D.E.I. is better viewed as standing for 'discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,' and that has no place in our public institution."

Protesters outside the news conference called his takeover unreasonable, unnecessary and that it was an attempt to make students conform to his views. 

The governor has been a leading critic of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in colleges, known as DEI, as well as Critical Race Theory, which is a way of thinking about American history through the lens of racism.

"In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country," DeSantis previously said. "Florida students will receive an education, not a political indoctrination."

LINK: Read the SB 266 here

Under the DEI-related bill (SB 266), colleges and universities will be prevented from spending state or federal money to promote, support or maintain programs or campus activities that "advocate for" diversity, equity and inclusion. Schools also will not be able to spend money on programs or activities that "promote or engage in political or social activism" as defined by the State Board of Education or the university system’s Board of Governors.

Rodrigues, a former Republican state senator, touted the bill as providing for the "dismantling of the DEI bureaucracy that has grown up on our campuses."

But the United Faculty of Florida sharply opposed the measure during this year’s legislative session, which ended May 5. Andrew Gothard, the union’s president and a professor at Florida Atlantic University, slammed DeSantis’ signing of the bill Monday, saying it shows the governor’s "authoritarian approach" to education.

"Today, we saw a governor who believes that viewpoint discrimination, the undermining of constitutional rights, compelling speech from students and faculty, and censoring ideas he disagrees with are somehow acceptable in a democratic society," Gothard said in a statement.

The measure, which will take effect in July, also seeks to place new requirements on general-education core courses at colleges and universities. The state education board and the Board of Governors will appoint joint faculty committees to review such courses. The reviews could lead to the "removal, alignment, realignment, or addition" based on certain criteria.

For example, such courses would be barred from being based on "theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities."

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, decried what she called a "destructive law" that "targets diverse students like me and our ability to thrive in higher education institutions." Eskamani is a daughter of immigrants from Iran who is working on a doctorate at the University of Central Florida.

"It also suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom," Eskamani said in a statement.

DeSantis and other Republican leaders have targeted what they describe as "trendy ideology" on campuses. DeSantis on Monday also praised the bill (HB 931) that will prohibit political loyalty tests.

"They will call them ‘diversity statements,’ but it’s really requiring you to sign up to support an ideological agenda that you may not be supportive of," DeSantis said.

The bill will prevent such things as compelling statements in support of a "specific partisan, political, or ideological set of beliefs."

DeSantis signed a third bill Monday (SB 240) that is aimed at strengthening workforce education, in part by providing tax breaks to businesses that employ apprentices or pre-apprentices.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report