DeSantis proposes higher education reforms; cites push against 'tactics of liberal elites'
Governor Ron DeSantis announced a series of sweeping proposals for the state’s higher education institutions Tuesday including implementing core course requirements focusing on Western Civilization, eliminating bureaucracies involved with diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory, and changing the way tenured faculty is reviewed in the state.
Information released by the governor’s office said DeSantis was supporting legislation for the 2023 Session to "further elevate civil discourse and intellectual freedom in higher education, further pushing back against the tactics of liberal elites who suppress free thought in the name of identity politics and indoctrination."
“(Today) we're announcing a series of proposals to continue to lead in the area of higher education,” the governor said in a media briefing at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota in Bradenton. “The first thing that we're gonna propose is, we want to make sure that everybody that goes through a Florida University has to take certain core course requirements, that's really focused on giving them the foundation so that they can think for themselves. And the core curriculum must be grounded in actual history, the actual philosophy that has shaped Western Civilization, our institutions will be graduating students, I think with degrees that are going to be meaningful. We don't want students to go through at taxpayer expense and graduate with a degree in zombie studies. And so this is going to make a difference.”
DeSantis also took aim at a favorite topic: areas of the state’s higher education system dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory. Earlier in January, the DeSantis administration requested all public universities provide information on initiatives and expenditures associated with DEI programs and critical race theory. DeSantis said those topics acted as a “ideological filter”
“We are also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies in the state of Florida, no funding and that will wither on the vine,” he said. “And I think that that's very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter, you've seen different things.”
We are also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies in the state of Florida, no funding and that will wither on the vine.Gov. DeSantis
Dr. Carolynne Gischel, with the Florida Gulf Coast University Chapter of United Faculty of Florida and an assistant professor in FGCU's Department of Teacher Preparation Programs reacted to the governor's plans.
"It cannot be overstated how unsettling it is to learn Governor DeSantis believes concepts such as diversity, equity, and inclusion are divisive. In fact, if he knew the definition of inclusion, he would understand it is the opposite of divisive," Gischel said. "Governor DeSantis is fighting a battle of his own making, and he knows it. He’s pretending to solve urgent issues of 'ideological indoctrination,' but those issues exist only in his mind."
Gischel said DeSantis was waging an all-out attack, not only on educators who he sees as the enemy, but also on Florida’s students and their right to pursue a quality education of their own choosing.
"Does Governor DeSantis really believe he alone gets to decide our students’ futures? Does he really believe narrowing the curriculum and denying access to quality courses benefit our students," Gischel said. "Does he really believe ignorance of diversity, equity, and inclusion benefits our communities? Or is Governor DeSantis instead driven by his own political agenda and scoring points with his base to further his political career, no matter the cost to our students and their education?"
Gischel also offered a statement from Dr. Andrew Gothard, United Faculty of Florida president: “We cannot allow politics to overtake good sense, good policy and best practice. We cannot allow authoritarianism to force tax-paying Floridians out of our public higher education system. We cannot stand by idly while a tyrant destroys our state’s future. UFF will fully oppose every step of this so-called “reform” program that actively harms our colleges and universities, and we will do so because we care about all Floridians.”
Additionally, DeSantis said the state budget will earmark $100 million for recruiting and retention of highly qualified faculty members at all Florida state universities.
“And so you're not spending the money on DEI bureaucracies, you're spending the money on bringing really good people in, that are going to be able to teach our university students,” he said.
DeSantis contrasted the atmosphere at nearby New College of Florida as an example, saying that filter was the reason the college had a declining enrollment. DeSantis also recently named six new conservative members to the school’s board.
“I mean, New College has really embraced that. And that's part of the reason I think it hasn't been successful and the enrollments down so much, because I think people want to see true academics, and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all this,” he said. “So that's no longer going to be in the state of Florida. And I think we probably are the first state that's actually leading by example. But I can tell you, those bureaucracies are not representative of what the people the state and the taxpayers of this state one we're also going to propose.”
To that end DeSantis touted that the legislature has agreed to authorize $15 million for New College for recruiting new faculty, and for scholarships for students.
“And so you're going to have a situation where you're going to be able to go out recruit people to come say, Hey, here's the mission, here's what we're looking to do, is this something that appeals and I think you're going to be able to get a lot a lot of good people to do it,” DeSantis said. “And what's going to end up happening in the budget is there's going to be recurring $10 million every year for new college for faculty recruitment and for faculty salaries. And I think that's, that's important.”
“The State University System of Florida is committed to providing our students with a high-quality, affordable education that focuses on academic excellence,” says Renee Fargason, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs with the State University System of Florida. “We are excited about the $100 million in performance funding for recruiting and retaining highly qualified faculty at state universities. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature on their policy initiatives to further elevate civil discourse and intellectual freedom in higher education.”
A significant change in the scope of faculty tenure was also part of DeSantis’ proposals for higher education.
“We have the five-year review of all tenured faculty which is which is good. … But you may need to do review more aggressively than just five.”
DeSantis proposed giving university boards of trustees, and the presidents of the universities, the power to call a post tenure review at any time.
Usually, tenure is a lifetime appointment that provides a safeguard for scholarly research, including on potentially unpopular topics. Tenure has been a subject of discussion in the state for several years with changes made last year putting the every-five-years aspect in place.
DeSantis claimed that the most significant deadweight costs at universities is typically unproductive tenure faculty.
“And so why would we want to saddle you as taxpayers with that cost, if we don't have to do that. We also want to power university presidents to make hiring decisions for their university by reestablishing their authority over the hiring process, actually, what happened, you would think that would be the case,” he said.
DeSantis said that the plans his administration has for higher education centers it on integrity of academics, excellence, pursuit of truth, teaching kids to think for themselves not trying to impose a generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice.
“Academia writ large across the country has really lost its way, particularly over the past year,” the governor said. “I mean, honestly, when I was in school, you had some but it's gotten a lot worse in terms of trying to impose orthodoxy.”
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