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

At New College, DeSantis signs a ban on DEI funding and other higher education bills

A man surrounded by ten people is seated at a desk with two American flags behind him. He is holding three folders up while an audience snaps photos.
Gov. DeSantis' Facebook page
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs three higher education bills at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was met with protests at New College of Florida in Sarasota where he signed three higher education bills into law on Monday.

New College of Florida in Sarasota welcomed Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday to sign three higher education bills, including the controversial HB 999/SB 266.

The new law targets diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at all state colleges and universities and prohibits institutions from spending tax dollars on them and limits how race is taught in higher education.

"What this concept of DEI has been, is to attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university, and not even necessarily in the classroom," DeSantis said, "but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself."

The governor said the ideological agenda has been "implemented across the country."

He said some of the more niche subjects, like critical race theory and gender studies, will no longer be offered in Florida. And for students who wish to study some of the "unemployable majors," they should instead "go to Berkeley."

"DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination," DeSantis said. "And that has no place in our public institutions."

Throughout the governor's speech and other speakers in attendance at the newly converted conservative college, the faint sound of protesters outside could be heard.

Christopher Rufo likened the demonstrators to "kindergarten level protests," and said the ultimate question is who represents the people of Florida.

"The DEI bureaucrats who say that America is fundamentally evil, who segregate students by race, and who deny opportunities to individuals because of their ancestry?" Rufo asked. "Or the man who says that everyone should be treated equally under the law and that our public universities should be oriented towards the pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful?"

The second bill DeSantis signed was HB 931, which prohibits higher education institutions from requiring students, faculty, and staff members from signing diversity statements, or what the governor called “political loyalty oaths.”

The last bill signed was SB 240. The new law expands access to workforce education, or trade programs, to middle and high school students.

"A four year brick and ivy university is one way you can be successful," DeSantis said. "But it is not the only way. And for many people, it's not the best way."

The new law will require every middle and high school district in the state to ensure each high school student has access to a work-based learning opportunity.

United Faculty of Florida President Andrew Gothard released a statement to WUSF about the bill signing.

"We saw a governor who believes that viewpoint discrimination, the undermining of constitutional rights, compelling speech from students and faculty, and censoring ideas he disagrees with are somehow acceptable in a democratic society," Gothard said. "Today, we saw a failure of Florida’s elected leadership at the highest levels, and UFF will do all in our power to stop this harm to Florida’s students and families before the damage is irreversible."

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried also released a statement concerning the bills signed today.

"Make no mistake, this legislation will absolutely destroy Florida’s world-class higher education system," she said. "DeSantis’ brand of fascism has already begun to obliterate academic freedom and freedom of thought, just like dictators of oppressive regimes around the globe have done for generations."

"Outlawing ideas he doesn’t like, rewriting history to omit the pieces that don’t fit his distorted worldview, intimidating educators and disassembling academic career paths and prohibiting anything DEI – these are all steps we’ve seen taken in places like Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia."

The bills signed into law today are a precursor to what many believe will be a presidential run for the governor.

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.