Higher Education Under Assault in Florida

By Kelly Benjamin

The AAUP continues to sound the alarm about the onslaught of political attacks on higher education in Florida as well as in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and other states. In January, AAUP executive director Julie Schmid appointed a special committee to review the disturbing pattern of political interference in Florida, including the hostile takeover of New College of Florida, the firing of the college’s president, and the installation of right-wing ideologues on the board of trustees, which together represent an attempt to reshape the public liberal arts college as a far-right institution. 

Also in January, AAUP president Irene Mulvey released a statement denouncing the Florida College System’s vow to identify and eliminate any academic requirement or program “that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.” Mulvey condemned the system’s blatant violation of academic freedom and shared governance, noting that it was revealing “that the only ideas the presidents wish to suppress relate to race.” 

The enormity of the battle for higher education in Florida is perhaps best encapsulated in House Bill 999, which threatens to effectively destroy higher education as we know it in the state by silencing faculty members and students across the ideological spectrum and purging whole fields of study from public universities. The bill would eviscerate academic freedom, tenure, shared governance, and institutional autonomy by placing control of core curricula and institutional mission statements entirely in the hands of political appointees. In February, the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Coalition against Censorship released a joint statement condemning the bill.

Though Florida led the way, other states are launching similar attacks. Details vary, but legislation introduced in several states seeks to censor or mandate specific classroom content, empower political partisans to dictate campus policy, and undermine the right of faculty members and other teachers to join together in unions and advocate for education as they see fit. These bills pose a serious threat to public higher education.

The AAUP is working with our allies to defend higher education. For developing information about political and ideological attacks in the states, along with recent statements, tools for taking action, and other resources, visit https://www.aaup.org/issues/ political-interference.