The legislature, which has a clear Republican majority, convenes for its regular session in March. Asked about the bill on Friday, a spokesman for the governor, Jeremy Redfern, said DeSantis would decide whether to sign it after seeing a final version passed by lawmakers. The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Representative Alex Andrade, could not be reached for comment.
Academics, free speech advocates and students condemned the measure. Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at the writers’ organization PEN America, tweeted that it would be the “central battleground for the soul of higher education. It would virtually end academic freedom, shared governance and institutional autonomy at all Florida colleges and universities,” Young said in a statement on Friday. Florida’s public university system includes 12 universities with an enrollment of more than 400,000 students.
The use of DEI programs in hiring has caused controversy more widely. Critics say that favoring underrepresented groups is unfairly detrimental to others, while proponents say such efforts are needed to help give traditionally marginalized groups equal footing.
Earlier this month, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott told state agencies and public universities that such practices violated labor laws. The University of Texas system’s board of regents on Wednesday said it had paused all new DEI policies in its hiring. The Florida bill would also prohibit spending on programs or campus activities that promote DEI and what it calls “Critical Race Theory rhetoric.” Programs required for compliance with federal regulations and some other assistance programs would be exempted. The measure states that general education core courses taught at public universities “may not suppress or distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Critical race theory is an academic concept that asserts that racism is woven into the U.S. legal system and ingrained in its primary institutions.