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Florida's university system is under assault during DeSantis' tenure, professors' group report says

Ron DeSantis looking to the left behind a microphone
Charlie Neibergall
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra's, R-Iowa, Faith and Family with the Feenstras event, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Sioux Center, Iowa.

It was highlighted by the takeover of New College in Sarasota, according to the American Association of University Professors report.

Academic freedom and independent governance have been under political and ideological assault in Florida's university system during the tenure of Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to a report by the American Association of University Professors released this month.

The threat to Florida's higher education system accelerated this year with the takeover of New College of Florida in Sarasota by partisan DeSantis supporters, according to the report from an AAUP committee.

New College has become a focal point of a campaign by DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, to rid higher education in the state of what he calls left-leaning “woke” indoctrination on campuses.

Additionally, the appointments of GOP politicians to the boards that govern Florida's higher education system have made them compliant to the wishes of the Republican governor, the report said.

A veteran University of Florida faculty member told the AAUP committee that previous board members, regardless of party, understood their role to be ensuring that the universities they led were thriving. But the current group “are concerned principally with their relationships with the governor,” the report said.

“At the same time, recent legislation has expanded the power of the board of governors and, to a lesser extent, of local boards of trustees to dictate policies to campus administrations and faculties,” the report said.

Adding to the concerns about Florida's higher education system is a new law passed this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature which requires a review every five years of tenured professors and forces state universities to be accredited by a different agency each accreditation cycle, the report said. Tenured professors traditionally have been given indefinite academic appointments to promote academic freedom, but conservative officials in red states across the U.S. have been reviewing whether there should be limits.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Florida Department of Education.

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