TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — While discussing the newly proposed “Framework to Freedom” budget for Florida’s next fiscal year, Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to questions on budget changes for colleges and universities. The focus was on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and staff, as well as initiatives or lessons related to critical race theory.

His response to the question on how the budget would be affected said spending on both DEI and CRT would be prevented, and that the two concepts were essentially a “red line” in Florida, saying lawmakers would work to make those proposals the law of the land in the coming March legislative session.

“There’ll be a statute that the legislature will pass that will basically abolish those offices, and I think that that needs to be done, I don’t think it’s been a good use of money,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s really about furthering ideology rather than trying to promote equal treatment.”

Referring to DEI and CRT as ideological concepts or something used in indoctrination has been a common refrain from the governor in the past year, particularly as it relates to Florida’s educational curriculum.

In recent proposals and announcements, state education officials and the governor have targeted programs involving focuses on racial equity and inclusivity training, as well as historical lessons centered on differences in American life as akin to indoctrination.

DeSantis said on Tuesday that the “dominant approach” of teaching DEI in universities was common across the U.S., with Americans seeing it “manifested” around the country as “DEI bureaucracies,” saying that they were “hostile to academic freedom and constitute a drain on resources” by committing to things like critical race theory and mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.

Additional commentary from DeSantis in particular has referred to DEI and CRT lessons as teaching students to feel shame or guilt for the nation’s past, and legislation was passed directly to ban that from Florida schools in the form of the Stop WOKE Act.

“The universities just won’t be able to spend it. As you guys know, we don’t dictate whatever universities spend on certain things,” DeSantis continued. “Like, I don’t agree with everything, but we don’t micromanage every little thing. But there’s certain things where you can ‘say ok, here’s a red line, you’re not allowed to go there,’ and that’s something that they’ll have to respect.”

As far as the state’s position on DEI and CRT going forward, the governor proposed legislation in Bradenton Tuesday, which would prohibit “indoctrination” at state institutions. The “Education not Indoctrination” initiatives were laid out just miles away from New College of Florida, which has recently made headlines due to being the center of new educational policies being planned or enacted in the Sunshine State.

The requirements of the new higher education reforms proposed by DeSantis include:

  • Requiring any general education course to provide a strong education foundation and “not promote ideological indoctrination,”
  • Require colleges and universities to “prioritize graduating students with degrees that lead to high-wage jobs,” and not those which are “designed to further a political agenda
  • Prohibiting “political filters like DEI statements” when making hiring decisions
  • Prohibiting public institutions from “supporting campus activities or programs that promote divisive concepts like DEI and CRT.”

Christopher Rufo, a self-described “activist challenging critical race theory and gender ideology in America’s institutions” and newly appointed trustee at New College of Florida echoed a similar sentiment, saying there were public institutions in Florida where students were “trained to feel guilt and shame for their white privilege.”

The proposed policies were not wholly accepted by free speech advocates and proponents of academic freedom, regardless of ideology or political position.

Responding to the proposals, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, urged state lawmakers to remember the First Amendment and its protections for U.S. citizens “of all political backgrounds,” saying that setting limits on how politicians wield power in higher education was needed.

FIRE is currently representing a University of South Florida professor, as well as a student group, in a lawsuit against state officials to block the Stop WOKE Act on university and college campuses.

The organization said allowing university presidents to have more control over personnel hiring, firing, and post-tenure review was jeopardizing academic freedom, while also noting their years of fighting against “de facto ideological loyalty oaths” for university students and faculty across the U.S. However, FIRE also noted that removing one type of “oath” came with its own potential risks.

“We caution that efforts to eliminate loyalty oaths must be careful not to trade one orthodoxy for another, and we await further details on the proposal,” FIRE said in a statement on the policy proposals. Adding to their concern, FIRE continued that “the more power that one individual has to call the shots on campus, the easier it is for political forces — be they donors, politicians, students, or activists — to dictate the range of acceptable ideas and voices.”