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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

DeSantis' effort to eliminate DEI efforts in universities passes in committee

Ron DeSantis speaking into the camera with "Truth" sign in the background
Executive Office of Gov. Ron DeSantis
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Courtesy
Gov. Ron DeSantis has frequently targeted the programs in criticism of what he calls “woke” ideology in education.

Critics said the bill would disadvantage college students when they seek employment after graduation, could endanger accreditation of Florida courses and would stifle academic freedom on campuses.

A proposal to eliminate diversity programs in colleges passed in committee on Monday but must still win approval from the full House and Senate chambers.

DeSantis is pursing an aggressive conservative agenda on race, gender and education ahead of his expected candidacy, continuing a stance that has made him one of the most popular Republicans in the country.

The Republican supermajority in the statehouse is set to rubber stamp virtually all DeSantis' priorities during this year’s legislative session, giving the governor a platform of policy wins that could prove popular during a GOP primary.

The governor has been a leading critic of diversity, equity and inclusion programs in colleges, known as DEI, as well as Critical Race Theory, which is a way of thinking about American history through the lens of racism.

Ahead of Monday's committee vote, DeSantis held a roundtable discussion to criticize diversity programs as racially divisive and discriminatory. He has frequently targeted the programs in criticism of what he calls “woke” ideology in education.

“In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country,” DeSantis said. “Florida students will receive an education, not a political indoctrination.”

The proposal would bar colleges from using state or federal funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs. It would prevent schools from having course curricula involving Critical Race Theory or so-called radical feminist theory, radical gender theory, queer theory, critical social justice or intersectionality.

In addition, universities would be able to conduct post-tenure reviews of faculty at any time for cause, in addition to a required review every five years.

Critics said the bill would disadvantage college students when they seek employment after graduation, could endanger accreditation of Florida courses and would stifle academic freedom on campuses.

“It’s not the responsibility of the state to define or dictate what we can or cannot learn. That is our choice, especially as adults within higher ed institutions,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat. “Why are we scared of these topics? Why do we not want adults like me in public universities who choose to learn about these theories to have an opportunity to learn about it, to question it, to debate it?”

Scholars developed Critical Race Theory during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. The theory centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Last year the governor signed legislation dubbed the Stop WOKE Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses. The law bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist or should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race, among other things.