It has been a busy year for Florida’s higher education system. A lot can change in a year. Desantis has changed how florida’s universities are run, When the Individual Freedom Act went into effect in July 2022, it was up to the teachers to decide what topics were prohibited in their classes that following autumn. Students had the option to record any lectures that would be against the Stop Woke Act with their smart phones. The scrutiny placed on faculty increased.
However, the legislation’s proponent, Governor Ron DeSantis, was far from finished. Another set of laws were passed in the months that followed. In his fight against “woke,” the governor Desantis has made Florida’s universities and colleges a focal point, a campaign that has showcased his firm style of leadership. He accelerated the system’s transformation by using his connections in Tallahassee and his direct control over appointments at state institutions. Here is a look at how the modifications came about and what happens next as the most recent legislation goes into force this month:
Cut The Woke Bill
A number of lawsuits were filed when House Bill 7, also known as the Stop Woke or Individual Freedom Act, was became law in 2022. The law forbids, among other things, teaching anybody to feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress” because of their race, colour, national origin, or sex due to past activities that were “committed in the past.”
According to the plaintiffs, professors are “hired to engage in the robust exchange of views and ideas,” including those that the state finds objectionable. The new law, according to DeSantis’ administration, safeguards that free exchange by forbidding schools from “forcing discriminatory concepts” on students and staff.
A federal judge imposed an injunction in November, invalidating the law as it relates to higher education after the statute entered into effect in July 2022. Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court described the law as “positively dystopian” and used a quotation from “1984” by George Orwell. Later, a federal appeal court determined that the injunction had to be adhered to until the case’s outcome.
In a brief submitted to the appeals court in June, a number of academics argued that the law’s ambiguity would have a “chilling effect” in their courses and violate First Amendment rights. If the appeals court sides with the state, several campuses, including the University of South Florida, have rules prepared to be put into effect. In August, a case status report is anticipated.
Review Of Tenure
DeSantis signed a law last year that targeted “lifetime appointments” for academics at universities. It mandated a review for tenured academic members at Florida’s public universities every five years.
Academic freedom is threatened by the legislation, according to professors and those who support them, leaving teachers open to political pressure over their research and teaching that may damage their tenure status. According to the bill’s opponents, weakening tenure also makes it more difficult to recruit and keep teachers who place a high value on the job stability that tenure provides.
This week’s newly enacted bill originally called for further reducing academic safeguards. The provision that would have permitted tenure to be reviewed “at any time” by a school’s board of trustees was removed towards the end of the parliamentary session.
Takeover Of A New College
DeSantis has utilised the authority of appointments to bring about reform, in addition to using Stop Woke and tenure reviews to demonstrate his sway with state lawmakers. He nominated six new trustees to New College of Florida in January with the goal of modernising the little liberal arts college in Sarasota. The action generated demonstrations, garnered media attention on a national scale, and warned other schools that the governor desantis was serious about pursuing his plan for higher education.
The new trustees had a bigger objective in mind, despite the fact that New College had long suffered with declining enrolment and years of postponed upkeep on campus buildings. One of the new trustees, Christopher Rufo, who is well-known for his online activism against critical race theory, wrote, “Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, our all-star board will demonstrate that the public universities, which have been corrupted by woke nihilism, can be recaptured, restructured, and reformed.”
The newly elected trustees dismissed Patricia Okker as president during their first meeting and named Richard Corcoran as acting president. The school’s office of diversity was later abolished, and five faculty members were denied tenure.
DeSantis visited the Sarasota campus to sign into law a bill eliminating such offices across the State University System, less than three months after New College trustees decided to close the institution’s office of diversity, equity, and inclusion. SB 266 forbids public institutions from using any public funds for initiatives or activities that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion; or promote or engage in political or social activism.” It does this by borrowing language from the Stop Woke Act from the previous year.
Although diversity, equality, and inclusion offices have long been present on college campuses, they came to the fore in 2020 as a result of the university campuses’ reactions to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. After being appropriated by conservative activists to represent campus censorship and cancel culture, the term quickly acquired a new meaning.
Additionally, the new regulation limits the discussion of structural racism and white privilege in general education courses, the foundational courses that all students must attend to earn their degrees.
DeSantis signed HB 931 during the same session, which forbids schools and universities from using “political litmus tests” to determine who gets hired, admitted, and promoted. It makes reference to diversity statements, which have long been criticised by proponents of free speech yet are frequently used in both public and private enterprises. The American Association of University Professors, on the other hand, claimed that the new rule, rather than fostering free expression, “cements the decline of Florida’s higher education system by enshrining into law culture-war-inspired censorship.”
What Happens After
State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues stated during a meeting in June that the Board of Governors, which is in charge of the system, will be creating regulations to carry out the plethora of legislation passed this year. According to Rodrigues, the staff would have to go over more than 30 pieces of legislation that pertain to higher education.
They will give SB 266 first consideration, he said. In addition to prohibiting spending on diversity, the law gives boards of trustees greater hiring and firing authority and mandates that each board make sure general education courses don’t “distort significant historical events or teach identity politics.” The law also mandates that all colleges switch their accrediting bodies and forbids accreditation standards that would contravene state legislation. In relation to accreditation organisations, the state government recently filed legal action against the Biden administration.
Other laws affecting higher education in Florida include SB 846, which forbids college and university staff from taking gifts from “foreign countries of concern,” such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, and HB 379, which forbids the use of TikTok on school-owned devices and the internet. Additionally, public schools and universities must immediately implement a new state law requiring people to use public facilities that correspond with the sex given to them at birth rather than their gender identification.