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

DeSantis blasts diversity programs as lawmakers take up removing them

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion with his allies in education, attacking diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida's colleges and universities on on Monday, March 14.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion with his allies in education, attacking diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida's colleges and universities on on Monday, March 14.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently held a roundtable with his allies in education to talk about efforts to remove diversity, equity and inclusion programs from higher education.

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion on Monday to talk about efforts to remove diversity, equity and inclusion programs from Florida's colleges and universities.

Republicans are advancing legislation to remove DEI from higher education in Florida.

Two bills — HB 999 and SB 266 — would ban universities and colleges from using diversity, equity and inclusion statements as part of the hiring process, a common requirement for tenure-seeking faculty.

It would also bar those institutions from spending money on programs or campus activities that "espouse diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory rhetoric."

They would also eliminate majors and minors related to critical race theory, gender studies and intersectionality at public colleges and universities. It would also restrict core general education courses.

It would give college and university boards of trustees the power to hire faculty and review faculty tenure at any time, with cause. Faculty organizations and students have voiced opposition to the legislation, and Democrats in the legislature have strongly opposed it.

The virtual panel, which live streamed on social media, was titled: “Education, not Indoctrination.”

Among the panelists were: conservative senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute Christopher Rufo, whom DeSantis appointed to the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees, former Republican state Senator Ray Rodrigues, who’s now the state University System Chancellor, along with conservative academics and students.

DeSantis has said he believes college and university administrations are using DEI initiatives to push leftist ideology on students.

“I think it’s been used in the administrative apparatus of universities to try to impose, not diversity of thought, but to try to impose uniformity of thought, and instead of inclusion, the people that dissent from this orthodoxy are actually excluded and marginalized.”

Legislation that would eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives from the state’s colleges and universities is getting taken up in committee this week. Rodrigues says university leaders are already reviewing DEI programs and eliminating funding for them.

“What we’re seeing I think is a concentrated effort from our administrators to take a close examination of what is occurring on their campuses and work to eradicate that which does not align with our mission, which is pursuit of academic excellence.”

In January, DeSantis’ administration required all public colleges and universities to report their DEI expenditures. DeSantis says they self-reported at least $34 million.

“We think probably it’s significantly higher than that, as they get into other programs where this is embedded. At the end of the day, you’re looking at that type of money and wondering ‘OK what could be done to use that money in a better way?’”

House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) says the bill is an attack on diversity across the state, not just in higher education.

“It’s really trying to say that diversity, equity and inclusion as a value is something that we should not want in Florida, and nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "It’s our diversity, I believe, that makes us great. I think it makes us unique as a state."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.