© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Despite phasing out DEI office, USF leaders say the school will remain diverse

A woman in striped jacket sits to the left of a man in a blue suit in front of a cream colored wall. They are speaking into microphones on a table with a forest green table skirt.
University of South Florida
University of South Florida President Rhea Law (left) and Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford (right) say the school will remain diverse at a Board of Trustees meeting March 18. This comes after a new state law eliminates funding in public universities for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

The University of South Florida is one of many schools forced to phase out diversity, equity, and inclusion offices thanks to a new state law. But USF officials say the school will remain diverse.

Universities across Florida are beginning to implement rules based on a 2023 law that bans the use of public funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher education.

The University of Florida terminated 28 positions linked to its DEI office earlier this month. The University of North Florida and Florida International followed suit.

And in Feb. 2023, the University of South Florida halted a search for a new vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — and has since revealed that it too has eliminated its DEI office.

Instead, the office's webpage now redirects visitors to a Resources, Policies & Forms page that offers guidance on the law and the corresponding regulation set by the Florida Board of Governors.

In response to the closures, the NAACP sent a letter to the NCAA encouraging Black student-athletes to reconsider attending public universities and colleges in the state.

USF Faculty Senate President Jenifer Jasinski Schneider raised her concerns over the impact of these changes at a Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, specifically pointing to the NAACP letter.

"The impact of those decisions are not just internal, they're happening external, and it affects the way that we recruit and retain all of our students, and also our faculty," she said.

ALSO READ: USF plans to establish a college focused on the study of AI and cybersecurity

Steve Lang is president of the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida. He told the board that news of the ban and the NAACP's response is affecting how people outside the state's higher education system look at its schools.

"What will happen when you have these kinds of policies in Florida — it's not just USF — it's Florida as a whole is really facing a hurricane," he said. "And they don't really seem to be prepared for what might happen."

But President Rhea Law tried to assure people that the school is committed to remaining diverse.

"We have our mission, and we have our values. And we have not changed those," she said. "We do not now have an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but we are absolutely supportive of access and opportunity for everyone. And we will continue to do that."

And Trustee Chair Will Weatherford had a similar message, saying diversity is at "the core of who we are."

"We don't have formal DEI positions, so there's not someone that carries that title here," he said. "But it doesn't change whether or not the university has a commitment to diversity."

Speaking after the meeting, Jasinski Schneider told WUSF that the school can close an office, but the concepts of DEI are woven in the disciplines and accreditation standards throughout the university.

"Faculty have research agenda, teaching, and courses, it's all still present. And so that is important that we continue that work, and make sure that our students, faculty, other people know that we are continuing that work," she said. "The state is just not funding DEI offices or initiatives."

In response to a request for more information, USF Communications and Marketing officials sent the following email to WUSF:

"In order to comply with state law and Florida Board of Governors regulation, USF has phased out the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The five staff members who worked in the office have transitioned to different roles at the university. The Vice President of DEI position, which has been vacant for some time, will not be filled.

USF remains committed to providing access and opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds, creating a welcoming environment where everyone can experience a sense of belonging and offering resources that support the success of our students, faculty and staff."

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.