By Patricia Tolson
In a show of support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the leaders of the Florida College System (FCS) vowed not to support or fund critical race theory (CRT)—unless it is taught objectively along with other concepts—and to eliminate “woke positions and ideologies.”
During comments at the Jan. 18 state Board of Education meeting, Florida State College of Jacksonville President John Avendano, representing Florida’s 28 colleges in the state’s college system, thanked DeSantis for “his continued support of education at all levels of education in the great state of Florida.”
He also read a statement (pdf) on behalf of his 27 colleagues.
“Historically, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives serve to increase diversity of thought as well as the enrollment and the success of the underrepresented populations,” Avendano read from the prepared statement.
However, he acknowledged the Board’s awareness that those same initiatives have come to “mean and accomplish the very opposite and seek to push ideology such as critical race theory and its related tenants.”
Stop W.O.K.E. Act
On April 22, 2022, DeSantis signed HB 7 into law. The legislation (pdf)—otherwise known as the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act”—prohibits CRT from being included in school curriculum and workplace training and allows private individuals to sue if the ban is violated.
As previously reported by The Epoch Times, HB 7 was the Florida Legislature’s follow-through of a proposal DeSantis made on Dec. 15, 2021. In January 2022, the law’s restrictions, placed on colleges and universities, were challenged. Since then, the law has faced many legal challenges, which are still ongoing.
Despite those legal challenges, the statement issued by the state’s 28 college presidents and read before the Florida Board of Education confirmed their unanimous support for the governor’s agenda.
“To be clear in this environment, the FCS presidents, by and through the FCS Council of Presidents, will ensure that all initiatives, instruction, and activities do not promote any ideology that suppresses intellectual and academic freedom, freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” Avendano read further. “As such, our institutions will not fund or support any institutional practice or policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality or the idea that the systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed and/or improved upon.”
He further promised that “if critical race theory or related concepts are taught as part of an appropriate postsecondary subject’s curriculum,” Florida’s 28 higher learning “institutions will only deliver instruction that includes critical race theory as one of several theories and in an objective manner.”
The FCS presidents affirmed the college system’s commitment to “developing campus environments” where students and faculty can “pursue their academic interests without fear of reprisal or being canceled,” to maintain “nondiscrimination in hiring, onboarding and professional development, merit, reason, fairness, civil debate,” and to have “fully evaluated and removed any institutional instruction, training, and policies opposed to the forms of discrimination” by Feb. 1, 2023.
Following Avendano’s reading of the joint FCS statement, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr., expressed pleasure in knowing they support the governor’s vision of higher education, “one free from indoctrination.”
“Their joint statement is an outright repudiation of the progressivist higher education agenda and commits to removing all woke positions and ideologies,” Diaz said.
“Today’s bold statement by the Florida College System presidents shows their commitment to providing students with higher education opportunities that are free from indoctrination and woke ideology,” Diaz said in an additional statement regarding the days events, posted on the Florida Department of Education website. “I would like to commend our presidents for ensuring our state colleges are environments where all students can embrace educational freedom and acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for a thriving career.”
On Dec. 28, Diaz and Chancellor Ray Rodrigues were informed (pdf) by Chris Spencer, DeSantis’ director for the office of policy and budget, that every institution in the Florida College System had to provide an accounting of “every expenditure of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory.”
DeSantis appointed Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute thinktank and a prominent voice against CRT, to the New College of Florida’s board of trustees.
Rufo says the tide is turning.
“All of the Florida public university presidents have released this letter pledging to reign in their D.E.I. departments and ensure that they are not promoting left-wing racialist ideology and political activism,” Rufo said in a Jan. 18 social media post. “The momentum is starting to shift. Keep pressing.”