TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Florida House subcommittee has advanced a bill that would bring major reforms to higher education at the state’s dozen public universities.
Republican lawmakers are supporting House Bill 999 which would eliminate diversity programs and certain majors, while Democratic lawmakers are pushing back, saying the legislation threatens academic freedom.
The series of reforms in HB 999 mirror proposed changes to the state’s public university system made by Gov. Ron DeSantis after his reelection.
“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 during a speech 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.”
Along party lines, the Florida House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee advanced HB 999 along party lines.
During public comment at a hearing Monday afternoon, students, educators and lawmakers spoke out against the bill.
“Let’s stop going down this dangerous road of censorship and limiting free speech in our public institutions of higher learning,” Rep. Angela Nixon (D-Jacksonville) said.
Earlier this month, the new Board of Trustees at New College of Florida in Sarasota voted to abolish its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.
“In our efforts to create a more perfect academic system, our institutions created DEI installing innovation over our youth not indoctrination,” Bradley Cordero told the committee.
The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) would eliminate DEI programs at all 12 of Florida’s public universities and create new requirements for hiring faculty.
“I have not heard any concerns or complaints from university administrators about the hiring elements in this bill,” Andrade said.
The bill would also ban certain majors, such as women’s studies and critical race theory.
“We were elected to make sure those taxpayer dollars were used correctly in the judgment of our constituents and that’s what we said we’re doing and what we’re doing today,” Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Valrico) said. “We have to allocate. We can’t teach everything to everybody at all times.”
Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamai (D-Orlando) argued the state should not dictate what students can and cannot learn on Florida’s college campuses.
“Why are we scared of these topics?” Eskamani said. “Why do we not want adults like me in public universities who choose to learn about these theories to have an opportunity to learn about it, to question it, to debate it.”
Andrade told the committee his bill will not limit student activities on college campuses, no matter their political agenda.
Some speakers told the committee they worry this bill could ruin the reputation of Florida’s public universities if it’s passed.