DeSantis promises to strip funding for diversity programs at state universities

Governor also addresses Trump criticism during news conference

BRADENTON, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took aim at college and university diversity programs during an event in Bradenton Tuesday.

DeSantis, speaking at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, announced a proposal to strip funding for all diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs as well as critical race theory at Florida’s state universities.

DeSantis has crusaded against critical race theory, or CRT, defined by Oxford Languages as “a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of Western society, especially in its legal and social institutions, on the basis of their having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people.”

DeSantis railed against “indoctrination” at college campuses and characterized DEI and CRT as “bureaucracies.”

“No funding and that will wither on the vine,” he said. “I think that that’s very important because it really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter.”

In a statement, the governor’s office said the proposal “raises the standards of learning and civil discourse of public higher education in Florida” by “prohibiting higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source, to support DEI, CRT, and other discriminatory initiatives.”

The proposal was expected after the DeSantis administration requested in late December that state colleges submit spending data and other information on programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.

The governor is also pushing for education administrators to “realign” courses to provide historically accurate information and to not include identity politics. DeSantis’ proposals have not yet been introduced as formal legislation but the GOP-controlled statehouse is often eager to carry out his initiatives.

DeSantis and other conservatives have long argued that critical race theory, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs are racially divisive and discriminatory — and are often cited in criticism of what they often call “woke” ideology in education.

Marvin Dunn, a Black historian and emeritus professor at Florida International University, as well as a vocal critic of the governor’s stance on DEI and CRT, said DeSantis has “touched a live wire in the American soul.”

“I think there is a sense among conservative Republicans that they don’t want to hear about it,” Dunn said.

DeSantis’ call for a “realignment” towards “historical accuracy” caught Dunn’s attention, he said.

“Whose call is that?” Dunn asked. “Americans don’t want the government telling professors what they can and cannot teach, it is un-American.”

Dunn also said: “I don’t think you can teach Florida Black history or American Black history without having people feel uncomfortable and they should, but they should not necessarily feel guilty.”

Legal analyst David Weinstein also weighed in on the proposal.

“What jumps out to me is that in a state where people are talking about freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of education, a right to the education of your choice, a parent’s right to have and take part in a child’s education, that the government here is trying to legislate against certain types of courses and coursework being part of a state-run curriculum,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said the proposal is “forcing and constricting the choices that students within the state of Florida are going to have from their state-funded institutions.”

“A private institution can choose to do whatever a private institution would like to do,” he said. “An institution that is supported by state funding needs to supportive of the interests of the state and that is where constitutional amendments and individual rights intersect and sometimes conflict with each other.”

Florida students entering state-funded colleges and universities “may find their choices a lot more limited than they are right now,” he added.

Florida lawmakers will take up the issue and others during the Florida legislative session in March.

DeSantis has promised to shake up higher education in Florida, recently appointing six new trustees to the board of New College of Florida in Sarasota, who say they intend to turn the small public college with a progressive reputation into a classical liberal arts school modeled after Hillsdale College, a private institution in Michigan with a conservative reputation.

Last year the governor signed legislation dubbed the Stop WOKE Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis, in schools and businesses. The law bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist or should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race, among other things.

This month, the DeSantis administration blocked a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools, saying it violates state law and is historically inaccurate.

So far, at least 25 states have considered legislation or other steps to limit how race and racism can be taught, according to an analysis from Education Week. Eight states, all Republican-led, have banned or limited the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions. The bans largely address what can be taught inside the classroom.

Governor addresses Trump criticism

The governor also took questions from the media and was asked about criticism from former President Donald Trump about DeSantis’ COVID policies since he has been governor.

The two men are considered two front-runners for the GOP nomination in the race for the White House in 2024.

“I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles. It’s been happening for many, many years. And if you look at the good thing about it, though, is like if you take a crisis situation like COVID, you know, the good thing about it is when you’re an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions, you got to steer that ship,” DeSantis said. “The good thing is, is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they reelect you or not.”

DeSantis pointed to his landslide victory against Democrat Charlie Crist as proof that voters approved of how he handled the pandemic.

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Gio Insignares joined the Local 10 News team in May 2021 as an anchor and reporter. He’ll be co-anchoring the new WSFL Morning Newscast, Monday-Friday from 7-9 a.m., and also contribute to other WPLG newscasts.