Salvo 03.12.2023 10 minutes

Making Woke-ism Die

Marco Rubio And Ron DeSantis Campaign In Orlando One Day Before Midterms

The governor of Florida is taking a firm hand to combat the spread of DEI in the state university system.

Most universities in the Florida system have built significant Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) empires. DEI in academia means infusing pervasive anti-American racialist propaganda into curricula, hiring, training, and recruiting, and the destruction of standards to accommodate protected groups.

DEI has infected most of America. Red states, which have been sleeping through this institutional capture, are starting to wake up. They are beginning to eliminate cancerous DEI programs from their universities (see Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee). But Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis is leading the way in uprooting this pernicious ideology from public centers of higher learning.

As I detail in a recent report for the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, all 12 four-year Florida universities had a central administrator dedicated to promoting DEI. All but one university included DEI in their strategic plans, and all but one had a university-level committee dedicated to DEI.

DEI plans were most developed at the University of Florida, the system’s flagship. Twelve of the 16 colleges at UF have DEI deans, often with significant budgets, authority, and staff. Minority recruitment at the Levin College of Law and in the College of Medicine was bending, if not breaking, Florida’s ban on racial preferences in admissions. New racially-infused curricula were being added in college after college, including the College of Medicine and the College of Education.

DEI worked its way into what students are taught. The university-level General Education Committee (GEC) in effect doubled the number of diversity credits required for graduation, from 6 to 12, by adding more diversity programs to the Quest general education program. It developed model DEI statements for syllabi across the university. GEC even proposed “a course grade audit to evaluate historical trends based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc.,” which would likely be a prelude either for getting rid of classes where blacks performed worse than whites, eliminating grades in such classes altogether, or for incentivizing professors to use two grade scales—one for whites and one for blacks. 

It is remarkable to consider that this was all happening on the watch of a Republican-controlled Board of Governors (BOG). Florida’s BOG was better than most red state educational overseers—it hardly had any DEI in its strategic plans and it emphasized sensible goals like career-readiness, program prioritization, and keeping tuition low. But in October 2020, the BOG released a memo making DEI a “strategic priority.” This memo promised to transform Florida’s universities: “The Board of Governors is making a clear and steadfast commitment to prioritize and support diversity, racial and gender equity, and inclusion in the State University System and to hold each university accountable for policies, programs, and actions that will codify and operationalize the System’s commitment.”

BOG members are appointed by elected officials. How could Republican-appointed governors have approved such an ideologically-inflected statement to go out under their signature? The problem is that, traditionally, even Republican board appointees have focused their attention primarily on free speech regulations and banning racial preferences—the standard conservative positions on higher education reform. But these concerns, however important, skirt the real problem, which is that universities are no longer preserving our civilizational heritage, promoting a reasonable patriotism, and leading in scientific progress. Number-crunching and bans on racial preferences are not enough to preserve university missions.

The beginning of wisdom on education is recognizing its political character. What is taught is inherently political because all education shapes the souls of our future citizens. Will it shape souls toward our form of civilization or against it? The Left understands this ancient lesson, but they have turned it on its head, from preserving civilization to destroying it.

Governor DeSantis understands this lesson too. He was among the first to act on the idea that personnel is policy. He began selecting new BOG members with an eye toward dismantling DEI and refocusing system schools on their core mission. He dramatically added new members to the New College Board of Trustees to change that institution’s direction. The old president was released and Richard Corcoran, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, is the replacement. The University of Florida Board hired former senator Ben Sasse to lead and restructure the system’s flagship. DEI-friendly administrators have been let go, while those pledged to oppose it have been brought on deck. A DEI pedigree may eventually be a bar to university employment in Florida.

Such restructuring also requires laws and regulations that root out DEI and build anew. Florida’s legislature is deliberating HB 999, which would defund DEI infrastructures and programming on Florida campuses and call on boards to eliminate DEI-infused academic programs like Gender Studies. The bill also requires Florida’s universities to adopt a general education program aimed at promoting “citizenship in a constitutional republic” rather than one based on a hatred for our civilization. Investing in the healthy parts of the university system—the sciences—with the aim of making Florida a leader in scientific and technological progress would restructure universities as radically as Governor DeSantis’ efforts to add new non-woke programs to Florida’s universities. Florida’s university system was beginning to rot from DEI sickness. Governor DeSantis has targeted the blight and occupied the moral high ground in defense of the American university. May many others follow.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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