Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Florida Bill Would Give the Governor Near Total Control of the State Universities

Just in case you had the idea that Ron DeSantis was all bark and no bite, this is a good time to forget that. A new bill introduced into the state legislature (at DeSantis' request) would fundamentally change the way Florida's 12 public universities, with an enrollment of 400,000 students, operate. It would, in effect, transfer most of the power to determine how the universities are run to the governor and his appointees. The bill, part of the agenda DeSantis presented last month, hasn't passed yet, but Republicans have huge majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and when DeSantis says "Jump!" Republican legislators generally say "How high?"

The bill has several sections. These ones getting the most publicity probably aren't the most important ones, though. These would ban majors in gender studies (which exist) and Critical Race Theory (which do not exist). It would also ban taking diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into account when university decisions are made. The bill also states that core courses "may not suppress or distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."

But the most important item in the bill would require the board of trustees at each university to approve all hires. The boards are appointed by the governor. This means that the boards would have the power to grill all candidates for jobs as professor, dean, provost, president, etc., on their views concerning DEI and probably almost anything else the boards want to ask about. Board staff members could be instructed to scour all the candidates' published work for hints of wokeness so that when a finalist or finalists are presented to the board for final approval or selection, the members would know what to ask about.

The bill would also allow the boards to review anyone's tenure status at any time, so even if a professor managed to get hired, if he or she made some negative comment about the governor or said something that might be construed as woke and a student reported it, the board could fire the professor.

Jeremy Young of PEN America, a group dedicated to preservation of academic freedom in America, said: "It is the most draconian bill that we've seen in the entire country relating to higher education. We are absolutely concerned about copycat bills in other states and about this spreading to be a national movement."

It is crystal clear that one of DeSantis' main issues during his presidential campaign will be education, from kindergarten through college. He wants to make sure that only conservative viewpoints are taught at all levels. This is far to the right of Donald Trump, who isn't terribly interested in education, and will allow DeSantis to try to outflank Trump on the right. While this strategy may work in the primaries, it is certain to enrage Democrats and may drive the remaining college-educated voters who are still Republicans into the Democratic camp. Whether blue-collar voters will get excited about the powers of boards of trustees remains to be seen. But Desantis understands that unless he wins the nomination, it doesn't matter how well his strategy will play in the general election. He is now laser-focused on winning the nomination. (V)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates