Inside DeSantis's Efforts to Reshape Florida Universities

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tags: Florida, academic freedom, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservative state lawmakers are frequent critics of Florida’s higher education system. They say universities are offering degrees in “zombie studies” and label campuses “socialism factories.”

But they are doing more than just lambasting universities and colleges for perceived liberal bias.

DeSantis and Florida Republicans, in an attempt to reshape the state’s 40 colleges and universities, installed GOP allies in top university posts and pushed legislation that could change tenure, limit how university professors can teach lessons on race and even how Florida higher education institutions are accredited.

Most recently, the governor’s chief of staff helped Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) navigate the University of Florida presidential selection process, ultimately assisting the senator in becoming the sole finalist to lead the state’s flagship university, a move that caused hundreds of University of Florida students this week to protest.

DeSantis over the summer also appointed a top GOP legislative ally, state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, as Florida’s chancellor for higher education — a position from which he will wield enormous power over the state’s 12 public universities.

“They want to take over higher education, and this is one way to do that,” Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida union, said of Sasse’s selection as a finalist to lead the state’s flagship university. Gothard is a faculty member at Florida Atlantic University.

Conservatives in recent years developed an antagonistic relationship with academia, viewing college campuses as proving grounds for progressivism. And, fueled by the populist movement that elected Donald Trump, many Republicans have declared war on elitism — and used higher education as a symbol of what they’re fighting.

But DeSantis, considered a leading contender for president in 2024, seems to be taking the notion a step further. The governor and GOP state lawmakers are expanding Republican efforts to reshape K-12 education in America, an undertaking that DeSantis has made a key pillar of his agenda.

The governor has pushed legislation that would allow parents to sue schools if they teach critical race theory in classrooms, prohibit teachers from leading classroom discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation for young students and reject math books that contain elements focused on race- and “social-emotional learning.”


The new law, according to FIRE and other critics, constrains the ability of professors to play devil’s advocate and forbids them from “advancing” viewpoints even for the sake of Socratic discussion. And aside from race, faculty members are concerned about even broaching other topics like gender out of fear they could ultimately lose their jobs.

“It’s having a really far-reaching effect on the stifling of speech from what I hear from the colleagues who are consulting with me,” said Robert Cassanello, a professor at the University of Central Florida who teaches classes on the civil rights movement, emancipation and the Reconstruction era and is a plaintiff in one lawsuit.

Lawmakers and state higher education officials, however, contend that the law doesn’t outlaw any specific curriculum.

“It’s very clear what the act prohibits – you can’t place guilt on individuals for actions committed by others or by prior generations,” Rodrigues, the new higher education chancellor, said. “I would submit we should not have anyone teaching that one race is superior to another and be paid by taxpayers for that.”



Read entire article at Politico

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