© 2023 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Florida is at an inflection point': FAU faculty defends DEI as governor pledges to ban it

Joe Cavaretta / South Florida Sun Sentinel

Faculty at Florida Atlantic University are defending diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts on campus – as Gov. Ron DeSantis pledges to ban the initiatives across the state’s public universities, claiming the practices are discriminatory.

FAU’s Faculty Senate issued a joint statement calling out state officials for what it says are politically-motivated attacks on academic freedom. Professors at the school say they put up with “intimidation” and “scare tactics” on a daily basis — and they’re tired of it.

“Florida is at an inflection point. To maintain the excellent trajectory of our institution and our top-ranked State university system, it is essential that educators be afforded the academic freedom to craft our student-serving initiatives,” the statement, released on Tuesday, reads.

“Our message is clear: Education is too important to our students, to the people of Florida and to the future of our nation to be put at risk by political whim.”

The statement from FAU’s Faculty Senate focuses on DEI initiatives, which advocates say include a broad range of efforts that help all students succeed and recruit more faculty and staff from underrepresented backgrounds.

DEI is “critical to our students’ success”, the statement reads, but faculty say that work is “threatened by attacks on Florida’s educators which grow by the day”.

It comes as DeSantis announces sweeping plans to overhaul higher education in the state.

The proposals include prohibiting universities from “using any funding, regardless of source” to support DEI programs and giving more power to university presidents and Boards of Trustees over hiring and retention decisions – instead of faculty committees.

“There’s really a debate about what is the purpose of higher education, particularly publicly-funded higher education systems,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “You have the dominant view, which I think is not the right view, to impose ideological conformity, to provoke political activism. Instead, we need our higher education systems to promote academic excellence.”

United Faculty of Florida, the statewide union, has railed against DeSantis’ agenda saying the efforts to reshape higher ed are “extremist, authoritarian attacks”.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest step in DeSantis’ campaign to restrict how race and identity can be talked about in classrooms – and to consolidate power over the state’s schools and universities among his allies and appointees.

After DeSantis’ announcement, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights put out guidance clarifying that DEI trainings are consistent with federal law.

“[F]ederal civil rights laws do not categorically prohibit schools from offering activities such as instruction on the impact of racism, cultural competency training, or school climate surveys,” the agency said in a statement. “OCR will continue to vigorously enforce federal civil rights laws to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
More On This Topic