DeSantis Demands Florida Colleges Report Spending on DEI Programs

The Florida governor wants every public higher education institution to file a list of their spending related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory. Responses are due today.
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  • Universities were asked to detail the costs associated with running each program, including the amount of state funding it receives.
  • Schools' responses to the Executive Office of the Governor's Office of Policy and Budget are due today.
  • One professor from the University of North Florida expressed his confusion with the request, pointing to its lack of specificity.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his second inaugural address declared war on what he refers to as "woke ideology" — and the first battlefield in 2023 will be the state's public colleges and universities.

"We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die," DeSantis declared on Jan. 3 in his address.

Five days prior, DeSantis had sent a memo asking for the 28 universities in the Florida College System and the 12 State University System universities to "provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory."

Here's what the governor is asking for and how some professors and politicians in his state are responding to the request.

What Is the Governor Asking For?

DeSantis' memo, dated Dec. 28, 2022, specifically requests schools send him a brief description of each program touching on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and/or critical race theory (CRT); a list of positions; and the total funding necessary, including the amount that is state-funded.

The memo says that the request is to fully understand "the operational expenses of state institutions," mainly prioritizing "a cost-effective higher education system that delivers quality service to Floridians to best prepare them for employment."

State law – which "requires dutiful attention to curriculum content at our higher education systems" – is also a concern for the governor.

Answers are due today, just over two weeks after DeSantis made the demand.

Professors and Politicians Respond

Chris Spencer, Florida's director for the Office of Policy and Budget for the Governor, escalated DeSantis' demand on Jan. 4 when he tweeted a copy of the memo and said, "Stay tuned."

Dr. Nicholas Seabrook, a professor and chair of the Political Science and Public Administration Department at the University of North Florida, responded to the memo the same day in a tweet indicating that the request was quite vague.

"I was asked earlier this week by the governor’s office to submit a list of all courses in my department that contain DEI and/or CRT components. No explanation of why the request was made or what the information will be used for," he said.

Seabrook shared his response to the request, starting with "I find myself in the position of having difficulty complying with the referenced request from the Chancellor and Executive Office of the Governor due to its lack of specificity."

State Rep. Angie Nixon also responded to the memo on Twitter: "In the so-called free state of Florida under Gov. DeSantis, the freedom to run DEI programs at public colleges and universities appears next on the radar for destruction. Nothing is safe and it’s sickening"

Woke Worries

DeSantis' request for Florida's schools to list all staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory is the latest in his ongoing focus on so-called "woke ideology."

But whether or not his request of the state's public colleges and universities yields the results he desires remains to be seen, following the high-profile failure of his previous legislative efforts to win the "culture wars."

In April, DeSantis signed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act, which sought to limit what is taught in the classroom at higher education institutions, mainly by neutralizing conversations with topics such as race, gender, and sexuality.

"No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race," DeSantis said in a statement after signing the bill into law. "In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida."

The law went into effect in July, but the portion of the bill that impacts higher education has since been struck down by a state judge.

Judge Mark Walker wrote in a scathing rebuke of the law that it constitutes "viewpoint discrimination," meaning it limits faculty speech to include only opinions the state agrees with. Walker suspended the state's ability to enforce the law in colleges and universities, the harshest penalty imposed on so-called "divisive topics" laws in higher education thus far.

"Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, and the state of Florida's decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all," Walker wrote in his opinion.

"If our 'priests of democracy' are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness. But the First Amendment does not permit the state of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark."