As protesters chanted in the background, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday a hotly contested bill that dismantles diversity, equity and inclusion at Florida’s public universities and colleges.
The governor called DEI “a distraction from the core mission” of colleges during the ceremony at New College in Sarasota, a school that DeSantis wants to lead the way for a return to what he calls “classical” education.
“DEI would be better called discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination,” DeSantis said. “What this bill says is that this whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in Florida.”
The law also bans 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 and were created to maintain social, political, or economic inequities.”
DEI initiatives, generally designed to increase participation and promote opportunities for underrepresented groups, include academic courses focusing on women writers and LGBTQ+ history and aid for disadvantaged students.
“If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley,” DeSantis said. “But for us, with our tax dollars, we want to focus on the classical mission of what a university is supposed to be.”
Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, which represents more than 25,000 faculty members across the state, said providing students with the chance to learn about a variety of subjects and perspectives is “a bedrock of democracy.”
“The government has no role in banning or censoring subject matter in higher education,” Gothard said in April.
Democrats, who opposed the bill in the session that ended May 5, blasted DeSantis for signing it.
“Indoctrination drives the DeSantis agenda not because he is worried educators are indoctrinating students, but because they aren’t indoctrinating them with HIS ideology,” state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said in a statement. “This is sadly the latest example of government overreach into Florida classrooms as his administration continues its authoritarian assault on ideas and information.”
Earlier this year, DeSantis remade New College, a small liberal arts school of about 700 students, by appointing a majority of conservatives to its board, including Christopher Rufo, a member of the Manhattan Institute who helped devise the plan to dismantle DEI across the nation.
They quickly fired the college’s president Patricia Okker and replaced her with former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a staunch DeSantis ally, with a compensation package of $699,000 a year.
At Monday’s ceremony, Corcoran thanked the governor and Legislature for $35 million in new funding for the school this year, about $50,000 per student. He said New College had already banned DEI and changed its curriculum to focus on “values” and “technology.”
Corcoran also joked that the protesters chanting outside the ceremony were upset with him for shutting off the air conditioning in the dorms, not the changes at their school.
Noting that DeSantis is known for saying “Florida is where woke comes to die,” state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, added, “When you hear what’s going on outside, that’s what it sounds like when woke dies.”
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