Eliminating university gender studies and diversity initiatives are now core components of Republican political strategy.

By V. Jo Hsu, The Progressive Magazine

Florida’s House Bill 999 offers a terrifying preview of the conservative agenda for higher education. The bill, which was passed in early May as this issue of The Progressive goes to print, would grant the Florida Board of Governors sweeping control over course content, employment, and programming across the state’s public universities. It would transform the state’s public education system into an incubator for far-right politics.

Free Education End Student Debt Sign on the Campus of the University of Hawaii Manoa next to red balloons during protest of the cost of college.

The bill joins a wave of legislation across the country attacking gender studies and critical race theory (CRT), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and academic tenure. It builds on Republicans’ long-standing efforts targeting K-12 education. The same day HB 999 was passed, Florida’s Senate voted to expand last year’s Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Conservatives’ three-part strategy for colleges and universities targets different components of campus life—teaching, student services, and faculty employment—but together they conspire to make higher education a hostile environment for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups. In the long run, such measures will compromise the education of all students, prevent schools from attracting faculty and funding, and increase bias within and beyond higher education.

New College of Florida offers an instructive—and terrifying—precedent. Until this year, the Sarasota liberal arts school was known as a haven for queer and transgender students. In January, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis filled New College’s board of trustees, which governs the school, with conservative activists. They immediately ousted the college president and replaced her with a Republican politician, Richard Corcoran.

Read More