Presidents of Florida Colleges Support Governor DeSantis’ Vision for Higher Education

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Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. proclaimed Wednesday that the Florida College System’s Presidents’ statement is a firm endorsement of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s vision of higher education — “a repudiation of the progressivist higher education agenda.” The 28 state-funded institutions, attended by 813,000 college students, are looking to ensure that no activities, policies, or instruction that compel belief in Critical Race Theory (CRT) are happening on the campuses. John Avendano, President of Florida State College at Jacksonville, said that his fellow college Presidents will have completely evaluated and removed this kind of instruction, policy, or training by Feb. 1. After Avendano’s statement, Diaz highlighted to the State Board of Education what this signifies. “Today, the Florida College System Presidents publicly supported the Governor’s vision of higher education,” Diaz said. “Their (FSC Presidents) statement … commits to removing all woke positions and ideologies and it stands squarely in the camp of educational freedom and education for democratic citizenship.”

There was no mention, however, that the Governor’s vision is currently being legally challenged. A federal injunction was issued in November against enforcing the law (HB 7) that prohibited “wokeness” on campuses. This law forbids instruction, training, or policies that make someone feel uncomfortable or guilty due to their race, gender, or national origin. It also gave individuals the right to sue if that happens. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker called the law “positively dystopian” in the vague way it polices instruction. “Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves,” Walker wrote. This injunction is currently being appealed at the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which is filled with federal judges appointed by Republican Donald Trump.

The State Board of Education Chair Tom Grady called Avendano’s statement at Wednesday’s Board meeting ‘interesting’ and asked for clarification. “I’m guessing that because all college Presidents have adopted this, that you have come to believe that essentially diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) mean the opposite of what those words have always historically meant,” Grady said. “Is that part of the essence of your statement?” Avendano slowly answered, “In essence…it is (that), ‘We are free to explore all thoughts.’ That is what we want to do.”

The college President’s Wednesday declaration of the FCS’s unified approach to CRT and DEI — looking to remove it — reflects a similar development at New College in Sarasota, another state-funded institution. There, DeSantis appointed activists opposed to critical race theory onto New College’s Board of Trustees.

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