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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DeSantis signs bill defunding diversity spending in state schools

By Nicholas Nehamas

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation earlier this week that largely banned Florida’s public universities and colleges from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and imposed other measures that could reshape higher education at state schools.

The legislation also restricts how educators can discuss discrimination in required, lower-level courses — by forbidding the teaching of “identity politics,” for example — and weakens tenure protections. DeSantis signed it at New College of Florida, a public liberal arts institution that the governor has aggressively sought to transform, replacing trustees with conservative allies and engineering the appointment of a new president. The governor, who is expected to announce a presidential campaign soon, was met with loud protests Monday that could at times be heard through the television broadcast of his remarks.

The law has outraged faculty, free speech groups and students, particularly people of color and gay and transgender youth, who see it as a political assault on academic independence and anti-bias efforts. But Democrats could organize little opposition in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature.

“If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley,” DeSantis said at the bill-signing ceremony.

Republicans around the country are mounting similar efforts to restrict or eliminate diversity initiatives, which they believe are discriminatory.

In Texas, state legislators passed a budget last month eliminating diversity offices and training at public universities. More than a dozen other states, including Tennessee and North and South Carolina, have proposed bills targeting diversity programs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those who defend the programs say they help students from all backgrounds succeed on campus.

“Make no mistake, this legislation will absolutely destroy Florida’s world-class higher education system,” Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement.

DeSantis is likely to declare his candidacy for president by the end of May. He is using laws like his higher education bill to promote himself to conservatives in primary states.

But parts of the legislation could face legal challenges. Last year, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction against a similar law, calling its limits on what faculty are allowed to teach “positively dystopian.”

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