TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight against “woke” culture in education continues to dominate headlines, Florida Republicans are making more moves to curb diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education.
A bill filed by state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) would ban colleges from “requiring the completion of a political loyalty test or for persons to meet certain qualifications.”
Under the proposed law, Senate Bill 958, the Board of Governors of the State University System would establish an Office of Public Policy Events, which would have satellite offices at all of Florida’s public universities.
The bill would also designate the Florida Student Association as the nonprofit advocacy organization for students of the State University System.
A Ban on Political Loyalty Tests
Under the legislation, requiring someone to complete a political loyalty test in order to be hired, promoted or gain admission to a school would be illegal. The tests are specific tests for partisanship, political, or ideological beliefs based on “race or ethnicity or support of an ideology” based on “race or ethnicity or support of an ideology.”
Giving people preferential consideration for the same reasons would also be prohibited.
The bill goes further, saying that initiatives or formulations based on “diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, or a theory or practice that holds that systems or institutions upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution are racist, oppressive, or otherwise unjust,” would also be illegal.
Requirement for public debate, discussion, and forums
The bill would require the Florida university system to host debates at public colleges, with participants who “speak in favor of opposing approaches to the same public policy dispute.”
Perry’s bill also builds on a law established in 2021, which requires “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity assessments.” The law aimed to prevent what it called the “shielding of students” by faculty or staff from “ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”
In 2022, Florida lawmakers and state officials moved to block teaching of what they call “woke ideologies,” with a ban on critical race theory in K-12 schools as well as public colleges and universities.
While that law, the Stop WOKE Act, is somewhat stayed, pending multiple legal challenges, Florida lawmakers haven’t slowed down on what they say is an effort to get indoctrination out of state schools and higher education.
In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers made multiple announcements for legislative proposals targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and initiatives, which they’ve called indoctrination. Subsequent speeches by DeSantis have included a proposal to ban indoctrination on campus, focused specifically on “DEI bureaucracies.”
“I think you have the dominant view, which is not the right view. The dominant view is the use of higher education under this view is to impose ideological conformity, to try to promote political activism,” DeSantis said in January. “That’s what a university should be. That’s not what we believe is appropriate in the state of Florida. Instead we need our higher education to focus on promoting academic excellence, the pursuit of truth, and to give students the foundation to think for themselves.”
Now, the Florida Legislature through SB 958 is working to ensure what it says is the “fundamental purpose” of the state’s higher education: “advancement of knowledge.”
The state’s Board of the Governors of the State University System would have to create, fund and staff the Office of Public Policy Events, which would have satellite offices at all 12 of the state’s public universities.
Additionally, the office will have to, at minimum, “Organize, publicize, and stage a substantial number of debates, group forums, and individual lectures at each state university that address, from multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives, an extensive range of public policy issues widely discussed and debated in society at large.”
Those debates, forums, and lectures “must include speakers who represent widely held views on opposing sides of the most widely discussed” issues and who have a diversity of perspectives, both inside and outside of the state university community, according to the bill text. The legislation also says that the office must invite a speaker who can represent a perspective, should they be “unable to readily find an advocate from within the state university community who is well-versed” in it.
The debates, forums, and lectures would have to be recorded for online viewers and archiving. Staff would need to update a public calendar with each event topic, title, lecturers, and the associated speakers’ institutional affiliations.
However, related education proposals for Florida colleges and universities might make this more complicated.
As written, SB 958’s provision for bans on teaching about theories or practices related to the idea that parts of government in the U.S. are “racist, oppressive, or otherwise unjust” is further adding to previous legal efforts to block teaching of CRT and DEI content or ideas.
DeSantis’ proposed education policy has several requirements for reforming Florida higher education. Those policies include a prohibition on public institutions from “supporting campus activities or programs that promote divisive concepts like DEI and CRT.”
“Legislation may assume several different iterations before reaching the governor,” a spokesman for the governor said in response to requests for clarification. “As with any piece of legislation, if and when passed by the legislature and delivered to the governor’s office, the governor will review it in its final form and decide on the merits of the bill as presented.”
If the bill passes in both the Florida Senate and Florida House, it would take effect on July 1. WFLA.com reached out to both Sen. Perry’s office for comment or clarification on how the two legislative proposals would work if both enacted.