Florida Republicans’ New Bill May Be the Biggest Attack on Academic Freedom Yet
The bill, backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, goes after degrees, tenured professors, and more.
After Ron DeSantis’s months of attacks on colleges, schools, teachers, librarians, and students, the Florida governor is now pushing a sweeping legislation package that further threatens academic freedom at Florida universities.
House Bill 999 presents radical concentrations of power, taking liberties away from students and teachers and instead subjecting them to constant surveillance and paranoia for simply trying to embrace a fulsome education.
The bill calls for the removal of degrees in gender studies and critical race theory (or “any derivative major or minor of these belief systems,” perhaps left intentionally ambiguous) and bars anything else that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. The bill also prohibits universities from promoting, supporting, or maintaining any program or campus activities that “espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.”
The bill additionally directs university boards of trustees to be responsible for faculty hiring, and reads that a faculty member’s tenure could be reviewed “at any time.” In a vacuum, that may not seem inherently bad; given the chiling nature of the rest of the bill (and the broader Florida academic context), such a note suggests a regime eager to threaten tenure loss for those who step out of bounds.
If that all wasn’t enough, the bill also says that general education courses may not “suppress or distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” And they ought to “promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization.”
These general education courses further must “promote the values necessary to preserve the constitutional republic through traditional, historically accurate, and high-quality coursework,” and cannot be “based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content.”
The standards are largely to be overseen by the state Board of Education and Board of Governors—bodies whose members are appointed by the governor. And so determinations of what does and does not constitute “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or “values necessary to preserve the constitutional republic,” or even “accurate” are all ill-defined, amorphous, and ambiguous enough for Governor DeSantis’s authoritarian regime to carry out its desire to carve away any chance for Florida students to maintain a holistic and open-minded education.
House Bill 999 is indeed a focused continuation of DeSantis’s assault against academic freedom. But it is also a broader test: about how much power an aspirational fascist state executive can openly accumulate in America.