Students of the New College in Sarasota protested Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) Monday signing ceremony of S.B. 266, a law that forbids colleges and universities from spending state or federal funding on programs that promote political or social activism or “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” (DEI).
DeSantis said such DEI programs often actually stand for “discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination.” Critics worry it’ll shut down efforts to recruit students and educators and also shut down courses examining gender inequality, LGBTQ+ discrimination, and racial injustice.
The bill allows state officials to review colleges’ core curriculum classes for any “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.” If officials find such content, the curriculum can be removed, “realigned,” or expanded to stop such viewpoints.
The students’ demonstration against the law could be heard inside the campus building where DeSantis signed the law and mocked the small protest, commenting, “I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for more.”
The protesters held signs reading, “Hands off our faculty,” “Fascists not welcome,” and “What happened to freedom of expression?” They also promised to oppose DeSantis’ efforts to make state schools more conservative. Other critics have said that the law violates academic freedoms, forces colleges to accept government-approved viewpoints, will drive talented educators and students away from Florida’s universities, and could even cause some schools to lose their national accreditation from groups that require DEI programs as a critical part of higher education.
Meanwhile, inside the building, DeSantis defended the newly signed law, saying, “[DEI] has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda and that is wrong…. If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley, go to some of these other places… You don’t just get to take taxpayer dollars and do whatever the heck you want to do and think that’s somehow OK.”
Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, criticized DeSantis’s signing the law, saying, “Today, we saw a governor who believes that viewpoint discrimination, the undermining of constitutional rights, compelling speech from students and faculty, and censoring ideas he disagrees with are somehow acceptable in a democratic society,” WTVJ reported.
The new law is part of DeSantis’ plan to shift his state’s schools toward a conservative ideology. In January, DeSantis appointed the far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo to the New College’s board of trustees. The college had a reputation for being progressive and queer-friendly, but Rufo said the board would conduct a “top-down restructuring” of the school that will involve designing “a new core curriculum from scratch.”
In 2022, DeSantis signed the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” which forbids schools and businesses from offering educational programs on racism and gender-based discrimination. The law is currently on hold as a court considers its impact on our constitutionally protected rights to free speech.
Federal Judge Mark. E. Walker, who blocked the Stop WOKE Act last year, called the law “positively dystopian,” stating that it “officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints.”
“Professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves,” Walker said of the law.