TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Ron DeSantis targets “trendy ideology” in higher education, his administration is asking state colleges and universities for information about resources they are putting into activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory.
DeSantis has made the fight against critical race theory — which is based on the premise that racism is embedded in American institutions — a linchpin of his education and political agenda.
During an inauguration speech Tuesday to start his second term, DeSantis took aim at ideological issues on campuses.
“We must ensure school systems are responsive to parents and to students, not partisan interest groups, and we must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” the governor said in his prepared remarks.
Chris Spencer, director of DeSantis’ Office of Policy and Budget, sent a memo Dec. 28 to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, who oversee the college and university systems.
“As the Executive Office of the Governor prepares policy and budget proposals ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session, it is important that we have a full understanding of the operational expenses of state institutions,” Spencer wrote in the memo.
The memo said colleges and universities are required to “provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory.”
In addition, they are directed to detail “costs associated with the administration of each program or activity,” including a description of the activities, paid positions and how much of the money is provided by the state.
Diaz and Rodrigues are required to collect and submit the schools’ responses by Jan. 13.
DeSantis has repeatedly clashed with Democratic lawmakers and unions representing professors and teachers over his education initiatives.
United Faculty of Florida President Andrew Gothard, said Wednesday his union is “deeply concerned” about the Dec. 28 memo, which he called a “horrible directive.”
“Attempts such as these by the governor to chill speech and to intimidate those he disagrees with into remaining silent, altering their curriculum, and silencing their students are an affront to democracy and the American way of life,” Gothard, who is a professor at Florida Atlantic University, said in a statement to The News Service of Florida.. “Let those who supported Governor DeSantis in the recent election heed this warning: A man who will silence those whom he disagrees — in the classroom and beyond — will one day find a reason to silence you as well,”
Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, also blasted the memo in a Twitter post.
“In the so-called free state of Florida under Gov. DeSantis, the freedom to run DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) programs at public colleges and universities appears next on the radar for destruction. Nothing is safe and it’s sickening,” Nixon tweeted.
But Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow with The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, praised the move.
“Gov. DeSantis is going to lay siege to university ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programs,” Rufo said in a tweet.