Gov. DeSantis asks Florida universities for names of all staff, programs linked to diversity and CRT

Faculty union officials said they are concerned that any material provided by institutions in response to the governor's request could be used to retaliate against educators, particularly those who teach about race.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants colleges around the state to produce a detailed list of all personnel, programs, campus activities and funds associated with critical race theory and diversity initiatives.

While a DeSantis spokesperson said to “stay tuned” when asked why the state requested the material, the governor has vowed to fight against what he views as “woke” philosophy in higher education, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

“We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” DeSantis said at his second inauguration Tuesday, according to the Sentinel.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, critical race theory
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, dubbed the “Stop Woke Act,” during an April news conference in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. More recently, DeSantis has requested that universities across the state provide his office with a list of staff and programs that are linked to CRT and diversity initiatives. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP)

A Dec. 28, 2022 memo — written by the governor’s budget director Chris Spencer and forwarded to Chancellor Ray Rodrigues of the State University System of Florida and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz — says the governor’s office needs the information for budget planning.

It also references the governor’s controversial “Stop Woke Act.”

Universities that disobey the law’s prohibition against teaching that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” because of their gender or ethnicity, whether knowingly or unintentionally, risk losing state support.

Last month, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker granted a preliminary injunction to suspend the “Stop Woke Act,” declaring it to be “positively dystopian” and in violation of the First Amendment. The state challenged Walker’s decision, asking that the injunction be suspended.

Faculty union officials said they are concerned that any material provided by institutions in response to the request by the governor’s office could be used to retaliate against educators, particularly those who teach about race.

University of Central Florida union chair Robert Cassanello, who joined one of the legal actions opposing the “Stop Woke” ordinance, said some faculty members already have revised their course material or decided not to teach specific courses because they fear retribution, the Sentinal reported.

He said he anticipates that the school will flag a spring class he is teaching about Jim Crow in the United States.

“What it sounds like to me is Gov. DeSantis plans to punish universities over what they may or may not be teaching in classes or through programs or initiatives,” Cassanello said, according to the Sentinel.

Andrew Gothard is president of the United Faculty of Florida, a union representing more than 25,000 faculty members across the state. He wants colleges and universities to disregard the state’s request, which he believes builds on previous threats by the governor to cut funding to organizations that do not support his values and interests.

“It continues his efforts to chill the freedom of speech rights of faculty, students and staff, especially those who disagree with his ideological viewpoints and stances,” Gothard said, according to the Sentinel.

The University of Florida and UCF officials said they were working on the state’s request, which Board of Governors spokesperson Renee Fargason said all 12 state universities still needed to fulfill. They have until Jan. 13 to respond.

“Our hope is that the institutions don’t comply,” Gothard added, according to the Sentinel. “At some point, we as citizens of a democratic society have to stand up and say, ‘That’s enough.’ You can’t just target people and antagonize and brutalize them because they disagree with you. That’s not democracy. That’s not America. And it shouldn’t be Florida.”

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