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USA: DeSantis signs bill banning funding for diversity programs at Florida public colleges

DeSantis signs bill banning funding for diversity programs at Florida public colleges

first published on May 15, by  USA TODAY NETWORK, article by Zac Anderson and Steven Walker 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday banning state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state's public universities, staging the event at New College of Florida, which the governor has transformed into his own conservative higher education experiment.

A New College board revamped by DeSantis abolished the school's DEI office, and the college's interim president recently fired the diversity dean, a precursor to what other Florida universities could experience under SB 266, which was a centerpiece of DeSantis' aggressive legislative agenda this year.

As he gears up for a run for president, DeSantis has emphasized a culture war agenda against so-called "woke" policies, and universities have been a major focus. The governor has decried a campus culture that he views as overly focused on issues of racial, gender and LGBTQ equity.

The legislation signed by DeSantis Monday also restricts how gender and race are taught on campus. It requires university officials to review any lessons “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequities.”

Taking over New College, firing LGBT dean and librarian

New College has been at the forefront of DeSantis' higher education agenda ever since he appointed six new board members on Jan. 6. DeSantis has talked about turning New College, Florida's public honors college, into something resembling Hillsdale College, a private Christian school in Michigan.

The new board quickly fired the president and installed a DeSantis ally in her place, eliminated the DEI office and rejected early tenure for five professors, among a litany of changes that have dramatically altered the trajectory of the school.

Interim President Richard Corcoran also fired the diversity dean, who is transgender, and a librarian who also is a member of the LGBTQ community.

At the same time, state lawmakers have appropriated an extra $50 million for New College since Jan. 6 to accelerate the conservative transformation.

DeSantis wants 'top classical liberal arts college'

The money is being used to recruit students, hire new faculty and create new sports teams, among other programs.

“I don’t think they’ve ever gotten that infusion in the history of the college," DeSantis said, drawing applause from the crowd of 75 people gathered in College Hall. “We are committed to the mission here. I would love for this to be, and I think it will be, the top classical liberal arts college in America.”

Out front of College Hall, students gathered on short notice to rally in protest of DeSantis and the bill. Several students woke up to texts from other students about the event.

Libby Harrity, 19, had attended rallies outside of Board of Trustees meetings, and learned of Monday's event shortly before it started. Harrity and other students jeered at DeSantis supporters as they pulled into the parking lot at College Hall.

"I have the fire of 10,000 suns in my soul, and it's all of the transgender energy," they said.

The money is being used to recruit students, hire new faculty and create new sports teams, among other programs.

“They've been doing this for decades, and it's these like constant surprise attacks on people who are 20-year-old students who just want to have, like, a normal education and life,” said Alex Abraud, a 21-year-old anthropology student.

DeSantis, board appointee Cristopher Rufo mock protesters

The protestors chanted throughout DeSantis' event and could be clearly heard inside College Hall during speeches by the governor and others.

“I saw some of the protesters out there," DeSantis said. "I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for more."

Christopher Rufo, a DeSantis appointee to the New College board, also mocked the protesters.

Rufo is a conservative activist and prominent critic of DEI who called the legislation DeSantis signed Monday "once-in-a-generation reforms." He noted that he lives in the Seattle area, and said protests there are are common.

“This is kind of kindergarten level protest," he said.