Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has demanded that state educational authorities report how much they spend on critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the state’s higher education system.
In a Dec. 28 memo, the governor’s office gave state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz and Ray Rodrigues, chancellor of the state university system, until Jan. 13 to produce the information.
The requested documents should “provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory,” Chris Spencer, the governor’s director of policy and budget, wrote in the directive.
Officials need to describe each program, list all the full- and part-time positions associated with them, and report each program’s total funding and the amount provided by the state.
Spencer referenced the upcoming legislative session in Florida and DeSantis’ priority to provide “a cost-effective higher education system that delivers high-quality service to Floridians to best prepare them for employment.”
“I can’t offer more on this topic at the moment,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’s press secretary, wrote in an email, responding to a query whether the move was prompted by an Epoch Times story published Dec. 24, 2022.
In it, Florida students claimed conservative viewpoints, and those expressing them, were often targeted in the state’s public university classrooms.
“All I can say for now is that we are currently fact-finding; stay tuned,” Griffin wrote.
‘Where Woke Goes to Die’
In April 2022, DeSantis signed the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees” Act, also known as the Stop WOKE Act. The law prohibits discriminatory classroom instruction, such as CRT. And it prohibits employers from forcing workers to attend antiracism and CRT training.
The law bans instruction that implies someone is responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin. The measure also allows Floridians to sue if they believe their school or workplace has violated the law.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a preliminary injunction against the law in November after several Florida students and professors sued. The DeSantis administration is appealing the decision.
In November 2022, the governor’s office said that Florida was first for best value in tuition and fees, and first overall for higher education, citing U.S. Department of Education Statistics for the 2018-2019 school year. The state budgeted about $4 billion last year for higher education.
But DeSantis, who often says Florida is “where woke goes to die,” signaled in his inaugural address on Jan. 3 that he is not done reforming higher education in Florida.
“We must ensure schools systems are responsive to parents and to students, not partisan interest groups, and we must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” he said, after being sworn in to a second four-year term as Florida’s governor.
In another move showing he’s serious on the subject, DeSantis named CRT-proponent Chris Rufo to the board of trustees of the state’s New College on Jan. 6. Rufo, a documentary filmmaker and Manhattan Institute fellow, spoke at the Florida press conference where DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE Act into law.
Florida’s Stop WOKE Act originated as a response to the spread of CRT and other social justice concepts widely promoted by works such as The New York Times 1619 Project, which paints America as a country founded on slavery and characterizes the nation’s Founding Fathers as racists.
While the 1619 Project has been rejected by many academics, historians, and politicians, its teachings have been embraced just as vigorously by many liberals and progressives. Many have held it up as a model of how history should be taught to children and college students.
Florida universities actively promote CRT, according to the Critical Race Training in Education database maintained by the Legal Insurrection Foundation. The database lists CRT programs at universities and schools nationwide.
‘A Positive Development’
In its Dec 24, 2022, report, The Epoch Times documented experiences of six conservative students attending a major Florida university. In the article “Students Speak Out on Anti-White, Anti-Christian, Anti-American Culture at Florida University,” the young people, who spoke anonymously, described their frustration with a hostile environment for conservatives on campus. They described feeling uncomfortable, at best, and threatened, at worst.
Their accounts describe a campus culture focused on race and social justice, and hostile to conservative or Christian views. They asked to use pseudonyms to protect their identity, fearing retaliation for speaking publicly.
One of those students, identified as Robert, was encouraged to learn that DeSantis was taking action by requesting information about the funding of university programs steeped in racial bias.
In the Dec. 24 article, Robert, a Christian law student, told The Epoch Times he’d been reported to the FBI as “an extremist” for expressing conservative views. FBI agents visited his home and questioned him for more than an hour about the claims. He never learned the name of his accuser.
“I was excited by that,” Robert said, referring to the Dec. 28 demand from DeSantis for information about programs involving DEI and CRT at Florida universities. “It’s definitely a positive development, and I think The Epoch Times brought it to light.”
A journalism student, who asked to be identified only as Mia, said she was happy to see DeSantis take CRT seriously.
“I’m glad to see they are looking into it,” she said, wondering aloud if it was in response to the news coverage.
The Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits discrimination based on “antiracism” in the classroom and at the workplace, is a start, she said. But she doesn’t think it’s being enforced.
“I think somebody described it as toothless, which I would agree with,” Mia said.
The culture on campus remains hostile to conservative students. And if anything, CRT has only worsened during her time in school, she said.
“You see it every day on campus. That kind of thing is alive and well.”
Rodrigues, the state university system chancellor, was contacted in December by The Epoch Times and asked to comment on the students’ concerns. Through a representative, he declined comment, citing the litigation, while noting that the university system has regulations ready for implementing the legislation.
William Jacobson, a conservative Cornell law professor and founder of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, said the Florida universities shouldn’t have a problem providing the financial information the governor’s office wants.
“I would simply say it’s the Sunshine State, and there should be sunshine on what these expenses are,” he told The Epoch Times.
It’s essential to understand and quantify the administrative costs of various DEI programming, he said.
“Only once you understand the scope of the issue can you start to understand whether anything needs to be done.”
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett laughed on Jan. 5 as he told The Epoch Times he’d coincidentally just been working on his department’s required report on the matter. He’s the assistant director of the UCF School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs. With the department head on leave, the reporting job fell to him.
He said he had not found much CRT or DEI spending in the school. But he acknowledged that more spending might be found at the university’s administrative level, where employees work full-time or part-time on CRT or DEI.
“They have certainly pushed being more inclusive and diverse because American society has become more diverse over the last 30 years. We want to make sure all students feel welcome at UCF,” Jewett said.
DeSantis, widely seen as a presidential aspirant in 2024, is showing national leadership on the issue, Jewett said.
“My take is that frequently Gov. DeSantis has been a leader in this area. What he does finds itself repeated in other states. He’s not always the first to do something. But he’s gotten a national reputation. And even if he’s not the first, he gets a lot of attention. He has a knack for getting that media attention, and he’s sometimes clever framing an issue.”
On how it might affect a presidential race if DeSantis runs, Jewett said, “He’s reinforcing his image as a conservative fighter. He’s somebody who’s not just talking about things they don’t like, but actually trying to do something about them. That has endeared him to many conservatives; not only in Florida, but across the country.”
DeSantis raised over $200 million in the last election cycle.
Whether DeSantis will seek the Republican nomination is one of the biggest political questions of the next presidential election cycle. Former President Donald Trump has already declared his candidacy. But polls show DeSantis to be a clear favorite after Trump, Jewett said, and in some polls even leading Trump.
Addressing the issue of CRT and DEI in the budget can be effective, Jewett said.
One of his academic mentors used to say that “the budget of any organization is the most important public policy document you can have,” Jewett recalled. “It’s where you put dollar amounts to your goals and your values.”
Financial reports may not uncover all CRT and DEI efforts on Florida campuses, such as how much time professors devote to promoting those viewpoints in the classroom, how aggressively they do it, or how much they grade students on it, Jewett said.
But the budgetary inquiry surely will have an impact, he said. Universities know they’re being examined and that their funding might be impacted.
“If University X is spending $10 million on this kind of initiative, [the state can decide] they need $10 million less. The underlying potential for pushback is there.”
Jewett observed that DeSantis is opening another front, a financial one, in a battle already being waged in court, with an injunction in effect. DeSantis may not win the latter battle, Jewett said.
Some may have called the Stop WOKE Act toothless, but that’s only because the injunction has stopped it from being applied, Jewett said.
The law might face an uphill court battle on the point of impinging on professors’ free speech, he said. The DeSantis Administration has argued that professors don’t necessarily have “free speech,” because while teaching, the Florida government “owns” their speech. That’s because the government is paying for that speech.
“Anything that provides governmental oversight of university spending on DEI and CRT programs and personnel is a welcome change from the status quo,” retired Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain, now a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.
“Greater scrutiny of the programs could result in some curtailment of the most egregious ones. It is unlikely, however, to prevent individual faculty members from pursuing ideological agendas that work to the disadvantage of conservative students and faculty.
“Filing civil rights complaints might be the best avenue for students to pursue when they find their rights infringed by DEI advocates who engage in racial or gender discrimination. Enforcement of state and federal anti-discrimination and non-bias laws should protect conservative students who are victimized because of their race, religion, or gender.”
Not a New Problem for Conservatives
“Conservative students have long complained about ideological bias against conservative viewpoints in the classroom,” said political scientist Susan MacManus, professor emerita at the University of South Florida. “It’s a continuation of the CRT debate in [grades] K through 12, now extended to higher education. They will show how they’re spending the money.”
It’s worse in some disciplines—such as the humanities and liberal arts—than in is in others, such as the hard sciences, she said.
“One thing that is likely to be targeted [in this year’s budget cycle in Florida] is the ideological diversity of speakers brought to college campuses [with tax dollars]. It’s hard for conservative students to get speakers without a lot of trouble.”
One thing that did apparently get done before the injunction went into effect was a survey of students on whether they perceived bias in the classrooms, MacManus said. She has yet to see formal results but heard that, at the outset, the response rate to the survey was low, and the researchers hadn’t found much, she said.
While defunding CRT is a positive step, Robert, the law student, said the governor needs to go further. He should start by replacing professors who follow Marxist-based doctrine with those who don’t, he said.
To truly make the college culture less hostile to Christian students or to those who speak in favor of preserving gun rights under the Second Amendment, he thinks universities need to hire conservative professors—if they can find them.
“From what I can tell in the culture is that the conservatives just accept that academics [and] colleges are owned by the leftists,” he said. “So they don’t really try to change that.”
Because of that belief, a lot of conservatives who might want to become professors don’t even try, he said.
“But then, another part is, it’s very obvious that whether it be through student admissions, or hirings, or grades, even, that the leftists in the schools prefer their fellow leftists and that they definitely have favoritism towards the people who share their political beliefs,” he said.
The hiring process for professors needs to become a level playing field, he said.
Right now, if a conservative professor interviewing for a teaching position discloses he was against wearing masks or doesn’t believe the Constitution is a living document, he wouldn’t be hired, Robert said.
Mia, the journalism student, questioned if restructuring money for DEI programs or anything labeled CRT would get to the root of the problem.
She pointed to a required journalism class in which her professor lauded the teachings of Karl Marx and emphatically spoke about “white privilege” and “systemic racism” as fact. She said students’ grades suffered if they wrote about views contrary to the professor’s anti-white, anti-establishment positions.
“I’m not sure she ever said the words Critical Race Theory, but she was teaching the ideas of Critical Race Theory,” Mia said. “So that won’t be uncovered by this” inquiry by DeSantis.
But she hopes the inquiry might cut back on programs and events that teach CRT and gender theory on Florida campuses.