DeSantis bans funding for Florida college diversity programmes

Ron DeSantis, Florida governor and likely US presidential candidate, says programmes aim to impose an ‘ideological agenda’.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is seen as Donald Trump's top challenger for the Republican US presidential nomination in 2024 [File: Scott Audette/Reuters]

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill to block federal and state funding to programmes that aim to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at public universities, boosting a conservative push against such initiatives.

DeSantis approved the measure on Monday, decrying DEI programmes as part of a “relatively recent” push to impose an “ideological agenda” on educational institutions in the United States.

“DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination. And that has no place in our public institutions,” DeSantis said during a news conference.

The law marks the latest effort by DeSantis, who is expected to announce a presidential run in the coming weeks, to champion conservative social causes, including in education.

DeSantis is widely seen as former President Donald Trump’s most serious challenger for the 2024 Republican nomination, but his poll numbers have faltered in recent weeks.

The Florida governor also has pushed greater restrictions on abortion and helped impose limits on discussions of sexuality and gender identity in classrooms.

Over the past few years, many US universities have embraced DEI programmes and training to bolster diversity in their ranks and better address the needs of minority students and faculty.

Monday’s measure bans curricula that teach “identity politics” or “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities”.

The legislation is aimed at curtailing education that looks at US history through the lens of racism, a view known as critical race theory.

Proponents of diversity programmes and critical race theory argue that they aim to counter institutional racism and teach an accurate version of history that highlights the hurdles African Americans and other ethnic minorities have faced.

Democratic Florida Senator Shevrin Jones rejected what he called DeSantis’s “overreach” into education. “Education ought to be about teaching kids how to think through issues, not what to think about issues,” Jones said.

“The exposure to wide-ranging experiences and fresh perspectives encourages understanding and creativity. By restricting what students can learn, the state is actively suppressing students’ academic and intellectual freedom.”

Florida House member Anna Eskamani also called the bill a “witch hunt” after it passed in the state legislature earlier this month.

“This is a destructive law that targets diverse students like me and our ability to thrive in higher education institutions,” Eskamani, who is of Iranian descent, said in a statement.

“It also suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies