A new Florida bill would aid and abet Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s full-on attempt to make Florida higher education serve the right-wing agenda he’s trying to implement for the state’s public universities and colleges.
House Bill 999, introduced by Republican Rep. Alex Andrade on Feb. 21, is a sweeping and astoundingly bad bill that would dictate university curricula, ban any funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at Florida institutions, take the hiring of faculty out of faculty hands, and give governing boards the power to review the tenure status of college faculty anytime they please. The bill also calls for the rewriting of university mission statements.
While several state legislatures are currently considering bills, which if they became law, would threaten academic freedom, prohibit practices and ideas that conservative lawmakers don’t like, or truncate the rights of tenured faculty, HB 999 stands alone as the bill that would do the most damage to the integrity of public universities of any in the nation. Here are some excerpts from the bill’s current text. They are among the worst, but hardly the only bad, components of the bill.
The bill bans general education courses that teach a “curriculum based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content” and that define “American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” No theories for Florida students – out with gravity, relativity, and evolution. And nothing that Mr. Andrade deems exploratory either – because really who needs discoveries from scientific exploration anyway.
It also aims to require universities to remove what Florida politicians seem to fear above all – any college major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems, defined as any major or minor that engenders beliefs in those concepts.
The bill also requires each state university board of trustees to be responsible for hiring faculty. “The president of the university may provide hiring recommendations to the board. The president and the board are not required to consider recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups.”
While the board of trustees may delegate its hiring authority to the president, the president may not delegate such hiring authority and the board must approve or deny any selection by the president.
Think of the amazing academic expertise these Florida presidents and boards must possess – they can pick out the best physicists, anthropologists and percussionists without any faculty help. Or just maybe eliminating academic expertise from the hiring process is the whole point.
The bill states that each state university board of trustees may, at the request of its chair, review any faculty member’s tenure status. It does not specify any requirements for asking for such a review.
But faculty are not the only university employees who would be subject to the whims of a board. “Each state university board of trustees must confirm its president’s selection and reappointment of each member of the university’s executive management team, and his or her respective contract and annual salary, in accordance with the university’s personnel program established by the Board of Governors.”
It will be interesting to see how the presidents of Florida’s universities will respond to HB 999. Is newly installed University of Florida President Ben Sasse going to endorse a bill that removes his institution’s faculty from the faculty hiring process? Will he and other campus heads agree to stripping out “ unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content” from their schools’ general education curricula?
Meanwhile, the students, staff and faculty at Florida’s colleges and universities remain the victims of Governor Ron DeSantis’s extremist political agenda, with higher education his current target to bully. He’s already orchestrated the hostile takeover and makeover of the New College of Florida in Sarasota. It looks like his friends in the Florida Legislature now want to extend the net to snare bigger fish.