A pedestrian passes the entrance to the downtown St. Petersburg campus of St. Petersburg College, one of 28 state colleges that this week made a joint statement committing to limit the teaching of critical race theory and related topics by Feb. 1, 2023. The American Association of University Professors sharply condemned the statement.

In a statement Friday, the American Association of University Professors condemned Florida’s college presidents for committing this week to root out course content promoting “critical race theory or related concepts” by Feb. 1.

“The hypocrisy is glaring, as has been the case so often recently in Florida,” the statement said. “But the danger is very real. Censorship of ideas has absolutely no place in a democracy.”

The national organization, founded in 1915, stated it was “appalled at the blatant violation of academic freedom” and said it was exploring options, including an investigation and possible censure.

“In a democracy, higher education is a common good which requires that instructors have full freedom in their teaching to select materials and determine the approach to the subject,” the statement said. “Instead, the (Florida College System) presidents, while giving lip service to academic freedom, have announced their intention to censor teaching and learning by expunging ideas they want to suppress. By dictating course content, they are also usurping the primary responsibility for the curriculum traditionally accorded the faculty under principles of shared governance.”

The presidents of Florida’s 28 state colleges — including Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College and Pasco-Hernando State College — released a statement on Wednesday that said in part they would not support “any institutional practice, policy or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.”

Intersectionality is a recognition that discrimination and oppression in society are often interwoven, overlapping and complex. The concept aims to convey, for example, how Black men and white women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar and different.

The college presidents further stated that any course material or instruction that includes discussion of critical race theory will present it as “one of several theories and in an objective manner.”

Their statement came as Gov. Ron DeSantis steps up his effort to rid Florida higher education of “trendy ideologies,” as he described it in his inaugural speech earlier this month.

His budget office has required the state’s colleges and universities to report how much they spend on activities related to critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion. And in a separate request, the office told universities to provide details on all the gender-affirming care they have provided since 2018.

In its response to the state, Hillsborough Community College stated that they don’t offer critical race theory courses, and that student programs are inclusive to all. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday, an HCC spokesperson said the college supports the system statement and remains “committed to the values that are foundational to our mission.”

St. Petersburg College wrote in its response that they were “actively auditing” their website, programs and initiatives for changes that need to be made. In December, SPC President Tonjua Williams, who leads the council of college presidents, penned a letter to the Department of Education saying the colleges would support the ideas behind Florida’s new “Stop WOKE Act,” which is facing legal challenges.

Irene Mulvey, president of the national professors group, said college presidents should act as firewalls against outside influence on their institutions.

“This is a move toward authoritarianism, totalitarianism,” she said. “The fact that the Florida college presidents have, seemingly unprompted, gone along with this kind of move toward authoritarianism has raised the alarm bell to a five-alarm fire.”

Her organization is considering an investigation that could result in censure or sanctions against an administration or a system. In the past five years, six colleges and universities have been added to the group’s censure list.

She described the designation as “sort of like a public black eye” in the higher education community.

Here is the full statement by the American Association of University Professors:

Following the news that the presidents of Florida’s 28 state and community colleges would identify and eliminate all courses dealing with critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality, the AAUP has released the following statement:

The AAUP is appalled at the blatant violation of academic freedom and shared governance that the presidents of the Florida College System (FCS) have pledged to commit by February 1, 2023. In less than two weeks, they vow to evaluate the courses offered in their institutions and root out any content that promotes “critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.” Their statement further mandates that any courses that discuss critical race theory may do so only “as one of several theories.”

In a democracy, higher education is a common good which requires that instructors have full freedom in their teaching to select materials and determine the approach to the subject. Instead, the FCS presidents, while giving lip service to academic freedom, have announced their intention to censor teaching and learning by expunging ideas they want to suppress. By dictating course content, they are also usurping the primary responsibility for the curriculum traditionally accorded the faculty under principles of shared governance.

That the only ideas the presidents wish to suppress relate to race is revealing.

The hypocrisy is glaring, as has been the case so often recently in Florida. But the danger is very real. Censorship of ideas has absolutely no place in a democracy. Given the very real threat this action poses for academic freedom and shared governance, the AAUP is exploring all options, including investigation and censure.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.