Academics Worry Ron DeSantis' Higher Education Legislation Will Have National Impact

·2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami’s Freedom Tower, May 9, 2022.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami’s Freedom Tower, May 9, 2022.

Over the last few years, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed laws that changed college tenure systems, displaced Florida universities from commonly accepted accreditation practices, and enacted yearly “viewpoint diversity surveys” from both students and faculty. If the responses are not up to par with the state’s legislature, they will be at risk of losing funding.

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” DeSantis said at a press conference after he signed the bill. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.”

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Republicans have long believed that colleges are places that unfairly push liberal perspectives, which led to DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act” which regulates what schools and workplaces can teach about race and identity. The legislation went into effect Friday and is already being challenged by University of Central Florida associate professor Robert Cassanello.

Cassanello, who teaches classes in civil rights movements, slavery and Reconstruction, says the law “restricts his ability to accurately and fully teach these subjects.” The state has asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

On Thursday, the board of governors for Florida’s public university system moved forward in approving regulations for enforcing the law, which could result in discipline and termination for those who do not adhere. Universities could also lose funding if they refuse to cooperate.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the DeSantis administration represents an existential threat to higher education in the state of Florida,” said J. Andrew Gothard, the statewide president of the United Faculty of Florida and an instructor in the English department at Florida Atlantic University told The Washington Post.

Others are worried that universities and colleges will follow DeSantis’ lead. Fairfield University mathematics professor Irene Mulvey said Texas is not far behind and that this could foreshadow worse things to come. “It’s a trend in the larger culture wars … where you see these politicians trying to throw red meat to the base and stir people up.”