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DeSantis’ Attacks on Higher Education and Diversity

House Bill 999

Florida’s House Bill on Postsecondary Educational Institutions is best known as HB 999. We have already seen recent attacks on the inclusivity of public education at elementary, middle and high school levels – schools across the state have already emptied their shelves of books discussing things like Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, or the tragic events of the Holocaust. Not only are children in Florida being deprived of learning about these critical moments in both US and global history, but this same trajectory of omission and ignorance is now plaguing our own campuses.

HB 999 directly targets the academic freedoms exercised by Florida public universities. The bill was only proposed in February, and has since been passing quickly through subcommittees. Despite not going into effect until July 1st, less than three months from now, the proposition of this bill alone has created rifts in the way universities have been able to carry out their basic functions. HB999 is quickly turning spaces meant for academic freedom and creativity into atmospheres of hostility, repression, and fear that no educator or student should have to feel. 

HB999 gives executive power to Governor Ron Desantis to revise the duties of the Florida board of governors. It places restrictions on the hiring process for university faculty, as well as employment, promotion, & evaluation processes for state university employees. 

Here at USF, we are seeing this in real time with the USF administration politically repressing and unjustly trying to fire staff member Chrisley Carpio for protesting alongside students to protect diversity. HB999’s employee restrictions also include authorizing appointed state university boards of trustees to strip away tenureship from established faculty members, as well as reappointing people for university administrative positions. HB999 isn’t just a student problem – it’s a faculty and staff problem too.

HB 999 will also restrict equity-based research and revise requirements for general education core courses. This includes censorship of courses that are associated with Critical Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Feminist Theory, Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality. Quite literally, HB 999 seeks for university students to not think critically. Period. It prohibits students from learning and discussing some of the most racist, sexist, and homophobic parts of history.

HB999 is especially an attack on the Women and Gender Studies department and the Africana Studies Department which students like us have fought endlessly just to create and sustain. We cannot let the labor of the student movement’s past go in vain! We need to keep struggling for our rights to public education! 

The last and most daunting part of HB999 is its targeted elimination of the funding and institutional support for student-led organizations that support critical thinking as mentioned, advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, promote political or social activism, or groups that are centered around specific parts of identity such as LGBTQ+, religious, or cultural groups. Not only are groups like SDS, that focus on student action and social justice, going to be repressed, but even groups that take progressive stances on addressing health disparities, protecting the environment or celebrating a particular country or  culture. The fight against HB999 is a fight that everyone needs to be in! USF needs to condemn this bill and not comply with any of these outrageous and repressive terms. 

The Impact of Desantis’ Legislative Attacks

Governor Desantis’ recent legislative attacks on diversity and higher education have since set dangerous precedents for political repression. This has been most frequently seen in the suppression and arrests of progressive activists and protestors – for example at the University of Florida or at the State Capital in Tallahassee. Given that the legislative attacks have primarily impacted students and school faculty and staff, it is on these same schools and university campuses where many brutal attacks and arrests have been made to silence students and protestors exercising their first amendment right to the freedom of speech. Universities have historically been sites where the promotion of progressive education and political dissent have been exercised. Desantis’ legislative attacks seek to silence the voices that make up these campuses.