A University of Florida student holds a protest sign.
University of Florida political science student Giancarlo Rodriguez holds a protest sign at a UF board of trustees meeting in November. He was among a large group of students contesting the selection of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as a finalist for the UF president's job. The American Association of University Professors is forming a committee to assess the state of academic freedom in Florida. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The American Association of University Professors said Thursday it planned to formally investigate “an apparent pattern of politically and racially motivated attacks on higher education” in Florida.

The announcement came a week after the organization rebuked Florida’s 28 state college presidents for issuing a statement committing to the principles of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Stop Woke Act.”

The association has appointed a committee of its members from colleges and universities outside the state who will be tasked with creating a report. The committee will conduct interviews with university and state officials, faculty leaders and others, the association said in a news release.

The release pointed to a series of events in the state, from last year’s controversy over academic freedom at the University of Florida to DeSantis’ decision this month to stack the New College of Florida board of trustees with six conservatives. In recent days, the DeSantis administration also has indicated its intent to “curb” diversity, equity and inclusion programs at colleges and universities and ordered universities to detail all gender-affirming treatment they have provided in the last four years.

The State University System declined to comment on the professors association’s announcement. The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, the association said it has “chronicled with growing alarm political interference into the affairs of Florida’s colleges and universities that has threatened academic freedom and shared governance in those institutions and undermined the very role of higher education as essential to a functioning democracy.”

Irene Mulvey, president of the association, said in an interview she hopes university administrators will feel emboldened by the support of the organization to protect their institutions from outside interference.

“We have been objecting to and condemning the appalling things we see in higher ed in Florida for quite some time now,” she said. “This committee is an indication of how serious the situation is…. It’s crystal clear that right now is a crucial time for democracy and higher education. It’s time for people to stand up for democracy and higher education.”

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

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