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Protestors at UF reject SB 846, call for education without borders

Over 100 people gathered on the University of Florida campus on Tuesday to protest Florida SB 846, a new law that restricts the 12 public universities from receiving gifts and entering into international cultural agreements with certain foreign countries.

Demonstrators carried handmade posters and whistles and heard speakers from universities and professional groups across Florida. Some people at the protest, which was held on the Reitz Union north lawn, said they wanted the policy changed, but most were seeking to have the law repealed.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in May of last year. SB 846 bars state colleges and universities from “accepting grants from or participating in partnerships or agreements with a college or university based in a foreign country of concern or with a foreign principal,” except those approved by the Board of Governors.

Those qualifying for restrictions include the government or a member of the government of a country of concern, as well as a political party or member of a political party of the same countries – of which there are seven: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

“A partnership, an association, a corporation, an organization, or other combination of persons” from the above countries may also be excluded from partnerships with Florida’s educational institutions, as well as any individual who lives in one of the countries and isn’t a lawful permanent resident or citizen of the United States, according to the language in the new law.

Jiangeng Xue is a UF professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the secretary of the Florida Chinese Faculty Association. During the protest, he introduced speakers through a megaphone, one after the other, to a chorus of whistles and cheers.

But involvement like this wasn’t always the Florida Chinese Faculty Association’s goal, he said.

Xue said the Florida Chinese Faculty Association began with a focus on facilitating professional development and research among Chinese faculty at UF. The group set out to be nonpolitical, he said.

But in light of recent legislation, they have shifted gears. “We have to fight back,” Xue said.

Xue said the Florida Chinese Faculty Association has met with UF's president and provost multiple times throughout its history and had good communication with the university’s leadership until a couple of years ago.

Xue said he is concerned about the hiring process for graduate students following the passing of SB 846. He said the process to apply for approval by the Board of Governors is long and incompatible with the timeline for the hiring process. “It’s impractical, at least,” he said.

Xue said UF has begun to brand itself as an AI-savvy university but is now unable to provide adequate staff to support its new focus. He said he is seeing a decline in applicants interested in research. By cutting off potential candidates from seven countries, UF will have to resort to lowering its standard to fill roles, he said.

He said UF won’t see the effects of this law immediately, but rather two, three or four years from now. "In the end, the reputation of the university will suffer as well,” he said.

Jorg Peters, a UF professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, is an immigrant himself – but not from a “country of concern.”

He came to the U.S. as a high school exchange student from Germany in 1978 and returned to the U.S. in 1984 as a graduate student.

“It is an obligation to all the colleagues I’ve had from ‘countries of concern,’” he said of his participation in the protest. He called the bill mean, wrong-spirited and un-American.

Sara Hejazi is an intern in the College of Medicine at UF. She came to the U.S. from Iran after completing a master's degree. Hejazi said that when she was getting her master's degree, she had a roommate who Hejazi described as an excellent cancer researcher.

Hejazi said she expected that the two would be reunited at UF. Then she found out her friend couldn’t come, she said, as a result of SB 846.

“Maybe it’s not the best time to apply,” she told her.

Hejazi said her story isn’t unique. “It is not the only story. I have many. I have heard many,” she said.

Julia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing