Florida Faculty Concerned by Potential Ban on MajorsHistorians in the News
tags: Florida, academic freedom, Ron DeSantis
Faculty members in Florida are worried that their departments and academic freedom are at risk after lawmakers in the state proposed banning majors and minors in “Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems.”
House Bill 999, a 23-page piece of legislation before Florida’s state legislature, follows the lead of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, in targeting what’s taught in higher education and how academe operates. If passed, the bill would prohibit public colleges from funding any projects that “espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.” It would also give boards of trustees unprecedented power over faculty hiring, tenure review, and rewriting university mission statements; ban general-education courses that teach “identity politics” or define American history “as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence”; and ban academic programs in gender studies, critical race theory, and intersectionality.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Robert Alexander Andrade, a Republican, is early in the legislative process and may be amended before being voted on. The legislative session starts on March 7.
“Conservative voters, Floridians, have been telling us for years that college campuses have been far too focused on political indoctrination and not enough focus has been given towards preparing these students for the real world,” Andrade said in an interview with WEAR ABC 3, a local television news station. He did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.
The bill’s proposed ban on majors and minors has Florida faculty members worried about what could happen to their programs, jobs, and students if the bill passes. Most public universities in Florida offer majors or minors in gender studies, so those programs would likely be on the chopping block if the bill were to be enacted.
Amy Reid is director of the gender studies program at New College of Florida, an institution that recently became the focus of attention after Governor DeSantis appointed a new slate of trustees there and vowed to remake the college as the “Hillsdale of the South.” Reid said she’s particularly concerned about the new bill’s targeting of her field.
“Gender studies as a field, and intersectionality as a primary tool of analysis for gender studies, helps people ask the questions that they want to ask about not only our present moment, but about our history, and the social forces that have created our past and our present,” Reid said. “There’s no indoctrination. There’s just the support for students who are trying to ask the questions and pursue the answers that they’re looking for.”
Jon Sensbach, chair of the history department at the University of Florida, said most of his colleagues on campus are nervous about the potential impact of HB 999.
“Everybody’s talking about it,” Sensbach said. “There’s a lot of question marks as to what the future might hold if this bill passes. I would say attitudes are ranging from resignation to defiance to bewilderment.”
Sensbach said he’s confident that if the bill were to be passed, it would not lead to a ban on history majors. But, Sensbach isn’t sure whether the bill would affect the courses and content he’s allowed to teach within the major.
“Does [HB 999] affect the teaching of racism?” Sensbach asked. “Does that affect the teaching of systemic gender inequality in American history or systemic racism in a number of American institutions? So to what extent would that affect our ability to discuss any of those concepts?”
Sensbach said the legislation would take state control of higher education to a new level in American history.
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