FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK — PEN America today called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s announcement of a broad outline of legislation to restrict the historic autonomy of higher education “a grave threat to free speech and academic freedom” at Florida’s public colleges and universities.
Among other changes, the governor’s proposals announced Tuesday would ban critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) at universities; effectively end tenure protections by giving boards of trustees hiring and firing power over faculty; rewrite university mission statements; compel colleges and universities to deprioritize certain fields that are deemed to further a “political agenda”; and “overhaul and restructure” New College of Florida, whose new board of trustees, made up largely of conservative pundits, on Tuesday fired the college president and replaced her with a political ally of the governor.
In response to the proposals, Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, released the following statement:
“These proposals represent nothing less than an effort to substitute the dictates of elected officials for the historic autonomy of higher education institutions. If enacted, they would unquestionably pose a grave threat to free speech on Florida campuses. The core freedom that is a vital prerequisite of academic research and teaching is the ability of scholars and students to pursue lines of inquiry, and this in turn depends on a university remaining free from political interference.
“Further,” Young continued, “the recent actions at New College — where a board selected to further an ideological agenda fired the president at its first meeting — reflects the inclinations of a government that wants to exert greater and narrower ideological control over higher education; not one that respects open inquiry or academic freedom. This proposal and these actions deserve vehement and vigorous opposition from all who hold free speech on campus dear.”
I went to public school and college in Florida. If I were a student in that system now, I’d be worried about the governor’s dictatorial approach to a system that should be immune from DeSantis’ political beliefs and agenda. Sooner or later, the universities will face accreditation problems.