Florida higher education is facing “an intellectual reign of terror,” report finds

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By Giselle Balido

December 11, 2023

The report compiled by a special committee of the American Association of University Professors warns that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies threaten the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state.

“What we are witnessing in Florida is an intellectual reign of terror. There is a tremendous sense of dread right now, not just among faculty; it’s tangible among students and staff as well.”

This is what LeRoy Pernell, a professor of law at Florida A&M University, said in a report investigating political interference in Florida’s higher-education system.

The report, which was compiled by a special committee of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), interviewed current and former Florida university professors and administrators.

DeSantis’ draconian policies

Schools and universities across the Sunshine State are grappling with education policies that opponents call “draconian.” A prime example is Gov. Ron DeSantisnew set of standards for teaching Black history that include the notion that slaves benefited from slavery, as well as the state’s restrictive policies on LGBTQ+ people that ban discussion of gender related issues in public school classrooms.

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DeSantis also drastically cut funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and programs across the state, and appointed a conservative board of trustees that reoriented the state’s only public liberal arts college, New College of Florida, along hard-right ideological lines.

More alarming for educators, is a bill signed into law by DeSantis in 2021 that requires professors to fill out surveys about their political views.

“Faculty are frustrated and downtrodden,” said Andrew Gothard, who teaches English at Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton) and is president of the United Faculty of Florida. “They have been unfairly and unjustly cast as political ‘indoctrinators’ for simply doing their jobs.”

An ideologically driven assault

In May 2023, the special committee issued a preliminary report, concluding that “academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance in Florida’s public colleges and universities currently face a politically and ideologically driven assault unparalleled in US history.”

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The report warned that “if sustained, [it] threatens the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state, with the direst of implications for the entire country.”

Other findings of the special committee report include:

  • Forty-eight percent of surveyed faculty members plan to seek employment in another state within the next year.
  • Fully 84% said they would not encourage a graduate student or faculty colleague in another state to come to teach in Florida.
  • Ninety-five percent indicated that the political atmosphere around higher education in Florida is either ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ due to statements from DeSantis claiming that professors are indoctrinating students with Cultural Marxist doctrines about gender and identity politics and teaching them to be ashamed of American history.

Students are also affected

Another study published in April of this year found that educators are not the only ones concerned about Florida’s educational system.

One in 8 graduating high school students in Florida says he or she won’t attend a public college due to DeSantis’ education policies, according to an Intelligent.com survey of over 1,000 Florida students.

In fact, 91% of prospective college students and 79% of current college students disagree with DeSantis’ policies. This has led 1 in 20 current state college students to plan to transfer because of DeSantis’ education policies.

“This is bigger than the partisan rhetoric out of this Legislature,” Democratic Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani said during a news conference at the Capitol about the report. “We are losing the top talent of students and faculty.”

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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