DeSantis is pushing for a ban on diversity programs at public colleges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans Tuesday to block public colleges from having diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory programs.

The Republican governor introduced the proposal as part of a larger higher education legislative package expected to pass the GOP-controlled state House when its regular session begins in March.

DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, has strongly criticized critical race theory, which addresses systemic racism – as well as diversity, equity and inclusion programs known as DEI.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it in the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars saw as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions that function to maintain white supremacy in society.

“I think people want to see real academics and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all of this,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Bradenton, adding that the DEI and CRT programs would receive “No funding, and it will wither on the vine.’

In a statement, the governor’s office said the proposal “raises the standards of instruction and civil discourse of public higher education in Florida” by “prohibiting institutions of higher education from using any funding, regardless of source, to support DEI, CRT and other discriminatory initiatives.”

Later in the day, the neoconservative majority on the once-progressive New College of Florida board of trustees — most of whom were recently appointed by DeSantis — voted to oust the current president, Patricia Ocker. They also voted to begin a debate on whether to eliminate the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and related programs. Final word on DEI programs will be given at another meeting.

The overall idea is to transform the Sarasota school of fewer than 1,000 students into what the new trustees call a “classic” liberal arts school.

“I think it’s time to impose a new standard,” said one of the new trustees, conservative activist Christopher Ruffo. “I think the new leadership is the expectation.”

Trustees voted to hire Richard Corcoran as the next president of New College. The Republican former speaker of the House and education commissioner is a close ally of DeSantis.

Before the meeting, dozens of students held a rally outside to oppose major changes to the school and its mission, which is known for its open approach to coursework without specific grades and is a safe space for many LBGTQ students who feel marginalized at other schools .

“That’s what’s at stake today and what we’re here to protect: the freedom to learn, the freedom to think, and the freedom to be who we are,” said fourth-year student Madison Markham.

The governor’s comprehensive higher education proposal was expected after the DeSantis administration demanded in late December that public colleges submit cost data and other information about programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.

The governor is also urging education administrators to “retool” the courses to provide historically accurate information and not include identity politics. DeSantis’ proposals have yet to be introduced as formal legislation, but the GOP-controlled Legislature has often been eager to implement his initiatives.

DeSantis and other conservatives have long argued that critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion agendas cause racial division and discrimination — and are often cited in criticism of what they often call “woke” ideology in education.

Last year, the governor signed legislation called the Stop WOKE Act, which restricts certain conversations and analyzes based on race in schools and businesses. The law prohibits the instruction that members of a race are inherently racist or should feel guilty for past acts committed by others of the same race, among other things.

This month, the DeSantis administration blocked a new advanced placement course about the study of African-American studies in high schools, saying it violates state law and is historically inaccurate.

So far, at least 25 states have considered legislation or other steps to limit the teaching of race and racism, according to an analysis by Education Week. Eight states, all Republican-led, have banned or restricted the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through legislation or administrative action. The bans largely affect what can be taught in the classroom.

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Associated Press writer Kurt Anderson contributed from St. Petersburg, Florida.

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