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Florida plans to ‘curb’ diversity efforts at colleges, universities, Nunez says

A view from inside the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Florida will be looking to “curb” diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the state’s colleges and universities, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said Tuesday, offering a preview of what higher education leaders can expect from lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session.

Her statements, delivered at a state Board of Governors meeting in Miami, marked the first time the DeSantis administration has explained why its budget office this month requested a detailed accounting of how much colleges and universities spend on such efforts.

“I can give you a few insights as to what we’re working on coming this session,” Nunez said before mentioning a statement last week from the presidents of Florida’s 28 state colleges. It pledged to root out any policy or practice that “compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts.” The lieutenant governor then suggested that effort would soon extend to the state’s 12 universities.

“I believe (the colleges are) looking at ways to curb those initiatives, and I think we’ll look at ways to more broadly curb those initiatives as well,” she said.

In a speech that earlier praised the university system for its high rankings and relatively low student debt, Nunez said “real forces” were “undermining the good work taking place” at the state schools.

“These new threats that are creeping and taking hold are things that we need to face,” she said. “I believe one of the biggest threats that’s infiltrating our universities is a permeating culture — one might call it woke culture, one might call it woke ideology, one might call it identity politics…. We don’t need to get into all the names, but I do believe that some of these issues are taking hold. The policies they advocate are based on hate and based on indoctrination.”

Nunez also previewed proposals to review general education courses and give university presidents more control over faculty hiring.

“We want to further empower our presidents to make sure that they own the responsibility of hiring individuals to work in their campuses and make sure it stays in the hands of the leader of the institution more so than in hidden hiring practices and faculty committees,” she said.

The legislative session begins March 7.

In their responses to the governor’s budget office, the 12 public universities said they collectively are spending about $34.5 million this year on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. About $20.7 million came from state funds.

The University of South Florida reported the highest expenses at $8.7 million, though only $2.5 million came from state funds. Money was spent on initiatives such the university’s supplier diversity program; non-mandatory trainings; a list of 10 courses including “Theatre Appreciation” and “Language in the USA;” and funding for its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Florida A&M University had the highest amount of state funds used at $4.1 million. The school’s expenses included a research center and museum for Black archives and its Center for Environmental Equity and Justice, created by the Legislature in 1998.

Shortly after those responses were submitted, the governor’s budget office sent out a second request requiring universities to report details on any procedures and treatments they had offered related to gender affirming care since 2018. The request did not specify how the information would be used.

Divya Kumar is a higher education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

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