Florida Man Calls the Thought PoliceRoundup
tags: Florida, teaching history, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis, Divisive Concepts
Victor Ray is the F. Wendell Miller Associate Professor of Sociology and African American studies at the University of Iowa. He is the author of On Critical Race Theory: Why it Matters and Why You Should Care.
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the thought police on college educators. The Chronicle of Higher Education published two articles revealing that the DeSantis administration demanded information—including employee titles and funding levels—on “programs and initiatives” focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion or “critical race theory” at Florida’s 12 public universities. DeSantis also appointed a group of right-wing ideologues to the New College of Florida’s board of trustees, including the anti–critical race theory and anti-LGBTQ propagandist Christopher Rufo, who admits to promoting disinformation campaigns and says he wants to “transform” New College by “recapturing higher education.”
DeSantis’s attacks on Florida institutions that stray from conservative orthodoxy have cost him in the past when prior attempts to dictate curriculum have been interrupted by the courts. In 2021, DeSantis tried to ban Florida faculty from testifying against the Republican Party’s voter suppression efforts, claiming that the testimony of faculty members as state employees could harm what Republicans apparently view as their state’s interest in denying ballot access. Refusing to take “that’s unconstitutional” for an answer, DeSantis followed up with what was dubbed the Stop Woke Act, which attempted to curtail discussions of race in colleges and universities. Issuing a temporary injunction against the act, a Florida judge called it “positively dystopian” and concluded that the governor’s attempt to control syllabi violates the First Amendment.
Last week’s announcements appear to be an attempt to circumvent unfavorable court rulings. PEN America’s Jeremy C. Young called the requests for funding levels a “witch hunt,” noting that the request appears pretextual and intended to scare ideological opponents rather than being a legitimate review of spending.
And as Don Moynihan, who holds the McCourt Chair at Georgetown’s School of Public Policy, notes, the impact of these attacks on higher education are already being felt. Uncertainty about the parameters of the funding requests and the hostile political environment is already depriving Florida’s college students of a factual education on racism. Professors are altering their teaching by canceling classes or avoiding controversial (but nonetheless accurate) information. And although it’s impossible to know exactly how many, some Florida faculty who teach about race and racism have left or are considering leaving the state.
There is no reason to trust either the ideas or the people that DeSantis is promoting. When asked to define “woke,” DeSantis’s lawyers called it the belief that there are “systemic injustices in American society” and there is a “need to address them.” Another word for believing in systemic inequality is “reality.” Few legitimate social scientists claim otherwise, as an overwhelming body of evidence supports structural accounts of racism. And Christopher Rufo is a former employee of the Discovery Institute, famous for its role in attempting to mainstream creationism as an alternative to evolutionary theory. Judging by their public statements, Rufo and these lawyers would struggle through introductory classes in sociology and biology and are unqualified to set educational policy.
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