Florida Colleges Ordered To Report All Spending and Resources Activities Related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Critical Race Theory Initiatives
Forget whether we need to reassess the role of the university in our tech-crazed society. Set aside data about lack of student preparedness and a drop in reading scores, discussions about the burden of student loans, the debate over affirmative action admissions, unionizing of teacher assistants, even about the societal effects of constantly rising costs for college in a time of inflation.
Once again, in a single flash of his imperial badge, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has cleared all the confusion about too many issues facing education in a single, clarifying campaign.
DeSantis, a fierce opponent of critical race theory and education culture warrior, has ordered Florida’s state colleges and universities to report all spending and resources “used for campus activities that relate to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory initiatives. The order, dated Dec. 28, was made public this week, with information due by Friday.
For “fact-finding” purposes, the governor wants a “comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities related to” DEI and CRT” with associated costs and spending reports for each.
It is unlikely that the governor wants the listing for fact-finding purposes. He sees the teaching of critical race, an academic framework that reconsiders aspects of law and society from the point of view of race, as an attack on societal values that he favors. He has pushed legislation banning CRT in K-12 schools and in corporate settings in the state, including employee trainings mentioning race. He also signaled last week that he will continue legal moves to take over the legal district operating around Disney World after Disney officials criticized him over these policies.
This is the same Ron DeSantis who wants to be president of a multicultural America that has substantial, lasting problems with racial attitudes on multiple levels. Education should be part of the answer, not the problem.
Adjustments to Evade Shutdown
Obviously public schools weren’t teaching critical race theory to young people. But rather than worrying about students reading below grade level, DeSantis has put his effort behind replacing school board members who want to ban books that mention race.
And just as obviously, we’re now talking about colleges and universities, not grade school. Institutions in which, yes, courses dealing with the challenge of critical thinking is, well, critical.
News outlet ProPublica reports that under pressure, real or perceived, from DeSantis policies, professors who teach about critical race theory are busily canceling courses, modifying their teaching or changing the language used in their classes. Amid economic pressures, schools are stingier with granting academic tenure, and these professors are finding it harder to resist laws banning certain racial topics, ProPublica reports. The website tells the story of Jonathan Cox at the University of Central Florida (and the only Black professor in his department), who scrapped a course that explored what is meant by colorblind racism on discriminatory practices for a graduate course on inequality and education instead. The reason: DeSantis’ Individual Freedom Act, also known as the “Stop Woke Act,” that bans teaching that one race or gender is morally superior to another and prohibits teachers from making students feel guilty for past discrimination by members of their race. It specifically bars portraying racial colorblindness — which the law labels a virtue — as racist.
A DeSantis spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, told ProPublica that the law “protects the open exchange of ideas” (italics in the original) by prohibiting teachers from “forcing discriminatory concepts on students.”
What the rest of us could conclude is that the state is interfering in what we generally would call academic freedom and limiting professors who are experts in their fields to decide what to teach their students.
As for diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings, many are mandated by states or funding authorities for a whole host of reasons that have little to do with critical race theory. Tying the two concepts together defies easy logic other than an effort to make discussions about race and difference verboten.
A Rising Pace of Attack
Per ProPublica and lots of other media accounts, it has taken just two years for critical race theory has gone from a largely obscure academic subject to a favorite bogeyman for Republican candidates. Activists such as Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, saw attacking race theory as a defense against measures enacted following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. Rufo denies that there is such a thing as structural racism in this country.
Seven states have passed billed to restrict teaching or training related to critical race theory in public colleges. Courts in Florida have upheld the right of teachers to teach despite these laws though the case is headed to a U.S. appeals court this summer.
The Florida legislature and Congressional Republicans are looking to follow up with more actions, including a “potential suite of executive orders in 2024,” in case the next presidential election goes their way, to “disrupt the national network of left-wing ideological production and distribution,” Rufo told ProPublica.
Naturally, universities smell budget cuts to follow, and have been hesitant to criticize state officials. And university officials have been careful to warn professors that they may not be able to defend them in court if states bring legal actions. Only tenured professors may be able to withstand legal challenges; the increasing number of adjunct professors are vulnerable as are faculty members without tenure. Some states, including Georgia and Texas, are moving to make firing of faculty members easier, regardless of what they teach.