Students walk across campus at the University of South Florida, which stands to be affected with the state's other universities and colleges by proposed legislation on higher education for 2023. [ Times (2018) ]

A bill filed this week in the Florida House would turn many of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ wide-ranging ideas on higher education into law by limiting diversity efforts, vastly expanding the powers of university boards and altering course offerings.

House Bill 999, filed by Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, proposes leaving all faculty hiring to boards of trustees, allowing a faculty member’s tenure to be reviewed “at any time,” and removing majors or minors in subjects like critical race theory and gender studies. It would also prohibit spending on activities that promote diversity, equity and inclusion and create new general education requirements.

DeSantis’ administration has been alluding to legislation like this for weeks. In early January, his budget office required all universities to detail what they spend on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. And on Jan. 31, the governor held a news conference announcing a sweeping package of changes that mirror those in Andrade’s bill.

Andrade was not immediately available for comment, his office said.

General education courses, the bill says, “may not suppress or distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” It spells out communications, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and math courses that may count as general education credits.

“Whenever applicable,” the bill says, the courses should “promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization and include studies of this nation’s historical documents, including the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments there to, and the Federalist Papers.”

In addition to existing metrics like graduation rates and retention rates, universities also would be evaluated on how well they provide industry certifications and whether they are educating students “for citizenship of the constitutional republic.”

In addition, the bill would greatly expand the role of boards of trustees at each school, which in turn would increase the governor’s role in university life. The governor holds the greatest influence on who serves as a university trustee, with the ability to appoint six members to each board. The state Board of Governors can make five appointments, but that panel is also largely appointed by the governor.

The bill would require all faculty hiring to be done by boards of trustees. The boards may delegate the role to presidents, but a president would not be able to delegate the role to anyone else.

“The president and the board are not required to consider recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups,” the bill says. It also would make presidents responsible for conducting performance evaluations of all employees making over $100,000.

In addition, the bill would prohibit diversity statements, which are short essays often used during the hiring or promotion process to describe a candidate’s commitment to diversity and equity.

But the measure also makes clear it would not do away with every function that university diversity offices typically tend to. It would not prohibit programs for Pell Grant recipients, first generation college students, nontraditional students, transfer students, students from low-income families or students with unique abilities.

DeSantis’ Jan. 31 announcement included only basic information on the “civics institutes” he proposed at three of the state’s 12 public universities, but Andrade’s bill offers new details.

The Florida Institute for Governance and Civics at Florida State University, established in 1981, would develop coursework about the origins of the American political system; develop resources for K-12 and college students “that foster an understanding of how individual rights, constitutionalism, separation of powers, and federalism” function; and become a national resource on polling and making civic literacy recommendations, among other duties.

The Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom at Florida International University, funded by the Legislature in 2020, would function as a college — hiring faculty, enrolling students and awarding degrees.

The Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida, established last year, would coordinate with the other two centers, according to the bill.

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

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