Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that launches the greatest attack on academic freedom yet.
The new law prohibits state universities from spending state or federal funds on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, which are widely recognized as crucial in combating implicit bias and providing support for students or employees who are members of a minority community. The measure also dramatically limits what professors can teach about race and gender and bans degrees in gender studies and critical race theory.
Moreover, students would be required to take classes on the history and philosophy of Western civilization, which many scholars recognize as coded language for white supremacist ideology.
“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,” DeSantis said during a press conference at the New College of Florida, in Sarasota. “And that has no place in our public institutions. This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida.”
His decision to hold the signing at the New College was particularly significant—and petty. The New College is a historically liberal enclave, not just in deeply red Florida but also in the county where it is located. The college’s board of trustees was overhauled in early January when DeSantis appointed six new conservative members. The very next month, the board ousted New College President Patricia Okker and installed Christopher Rufo, a DeSantis loyalist.
The college’s students have repeatedly protested DeSantis and his ultraconservative policies, and Monday was no different. The demonstrations against the new anti-DEI law were so loud that they could be heard during the signing ceremony.
DeSantis is desperate to establish himself as the new standard-bearer for the right wing, but he’s doing so at the cost of his constituents. Many of his policies are hugely unpopular in the state, but he’s forging ahead for political clout. Just last week, he signed a bill that will allow doctors and health insurance companies to deny care to anyone they want.