DeSantis’ targeting of race and diversity at Florida universities seen as political ploy

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona dismissed Gov. Ron DeSantis' latest action as “an attempt to get a national name for himself.”

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Democrats are slamming Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent targeting of critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities, and have dismissed his latest action as a ploy to boost his political ambitions.

DeSantis, in continuing his “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” despite a court injunction limiting its reach, has requested state public universities to submit a “comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities,” including funding, associated with diversity or CRT. The Florida governor has become a leading national Republican figure for his very public condemnations of issues he believes are rooted in “trendy” and “woke” ideologies influenced by the political left. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a November rally in Orlando in November before his reelection. In his first term, the Republican signed bills restricting classroom lessons. Now he is targeting public university programs. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Since taking office in 2019, DeSantis, a former two-term Republican congressman, has signed bills restricting instructions on race and LGBTQ+ identity in school classrooms. Similar bills have been introduced or passed by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country since late 2021. What’s more, the targeting of race, sexuality and gender identity in academia has been analyzed as a political strategy used by Republicans to win elections.

During a recent sit-down interview with theGrio, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said he believes the latest move by DeSantis, who is reportedly mulling a run for president in 2024, is “an attempt to get a national name for himself.”

Cardona said that rather than “supporting efforts to limit universities from doing what they do best,” DeSantis and other Republican governors should be more focused on working with the Biden-Harris administration to make sure that universities “have what they need to get students back into the classrooms, learning at high levels and graduating without tremendous debt.” 

Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones warns that DeSantis’ continuous aim at race and diversity in the classroom could have impacts that extend beyond simply earning political points. 

“Governor DeSantis and his team are on an all-out national marketing campaign. And all of it is being done at the expense of people’s lives,” Jones told theGrio. “What this confusion is doing is creating havoc within university systems.”

The Florida governor’s office has not disclosed why they are seeking information from public institutions of higher education or what they plan to do with it; however, Jones said he would not be surprised if DeSantis used that data to penalize institutions that offer coursework or programs related to race and diversity. 

Florida A&M University is the only HBCU in Florida. State Sen. Shevrin Jones said he is especially concerned about its programs in the face of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts. / AdobeStock

“If they’re looking for controversy in DEI and CRT, which is taught at our university system, then they’re going to find it, and they’re going to cut the funding for that. I will bet you that that’s the route that the [state] department of education and the governor’s office is going down,” he said. 

The Miami-Dade lawmaker, who has been a vocal critic of DeSantis since taking office, said he is especially concerned about what impact any blowback could have on Florida A&M University, which is the state’s only HBCU that is a public university and offers programs on African American studies. 

“Deans and presidents are now confused themselves on what can be taught and what can’t be taught, and teachers don’t want to teach it because they don’t want to get in trouble,” explained Jones. What’s worse, he said, “They’re creating this chaos and havoc within these systems, because they can.”

But Jones cautioned that this recent action from DeSantis is only the beginning from him and Republicans, both within the Sunshine State and nationally. 

“What Gov. DeSantis and the Republicans are about to do in this next legislative session, mark my words, they are going to try to set a national tone not just here in Florida when it comes to our university systems — all across the country,” he said. “This will now become the Republicans’ next issue to harp on.”

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