Governor Ron DeSantis said it himself last year, after U.S. News & World Report again ranked Florida the No. 1 state for higher education: “Florida schools are some of the best in the nation.” He expressed similar sentiments last week, when—from the other side of his mouth—he announced all of the ways he needs to fix those same institutions because they are factories for “indoctrination.”
Despite the cross-messaging from Kim Jong-Ron, it is clear that Florida’s colleges and universities are not broken. They will be, however, if the governor’s long-term agenda to dismantle higher education is allowed to succeed. A man who holds degrees from not one but two Ivy League universities, Harvard and Yale, has mounted an assault on our institutions of higher education that will leave them weaker and of significantly less value to the many thousands of students they serve.
As those of us in higher education know well, colleges and universities are a public good vital to our communities and our democracy. In Florida, industry, technology, business and the arts from the Gulf Coast to the Space Coast all rely on higher education to remain globally competitive, as they have for decades. Yet DeSantis and his team have made systematic efforts to dismantle the freedoms of students and faculty to teach and learn at the cutting edge of all fields.
Florida’s higher education campuses and classrooms have suffered one attack after another, seeking to decimate the constitutional rights of students, faculty and staff. Since 2021, DeSantis has pushed through efforts to compel state-sponsored speech on campus, dismantle oversight, encourage corruption-breeding secrecy and invade the personal lives of all higher ed community members. For someone who claims to hate communism, he’s cribbing directly from Mao’s playbook.
On top of all of this, eradicating tenure and academic freedom in the university system is one of the governor’s most recent projects. Florida Board of Governors regulation 10.003 proposes to create a statewide system wherein tenured faculty are reviewed every five years, and any faculty member found wanting can be immediately terminated, with no effective process of appeal or other redress. (While the proposed regulation states that decisions can be appealed on narrow grounds to determine if they violate any university regulations or collective bargaining agreements, it also stipulates that the arbitrator cannot substitute his or her judgment for that of the university.)