Political Interference in Higher Ed

Our students deserve quality education that includes freedom of inquiry, difficult truths, and many perspectives. But politicians in some states are trying to substitute their own ideological beliefs for educational freedom by passing legislation that interferes with how colleges and universities operate. 

  • These bills mandate or prohibit content in the classroom.
  • These bills empower partisan political appointees to determine campus policy.
  • These bills limit the freedom to learn, teach, and conduct research.

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Here are a few of the draconian measures recently enacted or proposed:


Florida governor Ron DeSantis has made a radical reshaping of higher education a centerpiece of his administration.

  • The Stop WOKE Act, signed into law in April 2022, restricts the way that race-related concepts can be taught in classrooms and workplace trainings in the state.
  • In early January 2023, Governor DeSantis appointed seven new far-right trustees at the New College of Florida with the stated objective of reshaping the public liberal arts college in the image of Hillsdale College, a private Christian institution known for rejecting federal funding and guiding the Trump administration’s widely panned 1776 report.
  • In a January press release, DeSantis promised to “prohibit DEI, CRT and other discriminatory programs and barriers to learning” and to require college and university presidents and boards of trustees to “take ownership of hiring and retention decisions, without interference from unions and faculty committees.”
  • House Bill 999, introduced in February 2023, would allow political appointees to control core curricula and institutional mission statements. It would ban gender studies as a major or minor, and prohibit the inclusion of “unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content” in general education courses (presumably including all scientific theories). It would also require boards of trustees or presidents to conduct faculty hiring, and allow boards to “review any faculty member’s tenure status,” apparently with or without cause—a change that would effectively eliminate tenure.

Four bills identified as priorities by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick target higher education.

  • Senate Bill 17 has three main provisions, which mirror those found in Florida’s HB 999.
    • The first provision puts curricular and hiring decisions in the hands of the governing board. The board is empowered to select university presidents; “approve or deny” the hiring of all vice presidents, provosts, deans, and other senior leadership positions; and “approve or deny” each core course as well as each advertisement for a tenured position.
    • The second provision prohibits colleges and universities from asking applicants for either demographic information or their “views on, experience with, or past or planned contributions to efforts involving diversity, equity, and inclusion, marginalized groups, antiracism, social justice, intersectionality, or related concepts.”
    • Finally, the bill would prevent state colleges and universities from establishing or maintaining a diversity, equity, and inclusion office or hosting DEI trainings of any kind. Anyone found in violation of this provision could be placed on unpaid leave for the first offense, and fired for the second.
  • SB 18 would prevent academic institutions from granting tenure to any employee hired after September 1, 2023. It would also allow the board of regents to establish “an alternate system of tiered employment status for faculty members,” which must include annual performance evaluation.
  • SB 15 mandates that student athletes can only compete in intercollegiate athletics based on their “biological sex,” as listed on their birth certificate. This bill follows from legislation passed during the 2021 legislative session banning transgendered athletes from K-12 competition.
  • SB 16 is drawn almost verbatim from the anti-CRT model legislation that has been introduced in nearly two dozen states around the country. (Read more about bills seeking to stifle accurate teaching of racial history here.)


Senate Bill 83 attempts to micromanage public–and to some extent, private–colleges and universities on a variety of issues, most of which are rooted in the culture wars. Provisions of particular concern include:

  • One that mandates certain components of course syllabi (including biographical information about the instructor) and requires that syllabi be made public.
  • Mandates effectively banning any activity related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and creating parameters around addressing “controversial matters.”
  • New annual performance evaluations of faculty and a requirement that boards of trustees adopt post-tenure review processes.
  • The creation of new standardized evaluations of faculty by students, the aggregate average numerical results of which are to be published on institutional websites.
  • A prohibition on strikes by faculty and other employees of public institutions of higher education.


Last year, Tennessee passed a law prohibiting students and employees at public colleges and universities from being penalized for failing to endorse certain “divisive concepts.” This year, the general assembly passed a bill that invites invite students and employees to report violations of the law and stipulates that institutions investigate reports and and take steps to correct any violation that is found to have occurred. It also bans requirements that prospective students or employees submit a personal diversity statement or to affirm agreement with an institutional diversity statement, and potentially limits the amount of time DEI employees can spend on diversity, equity and inclusion work.

North Carolina

  • House Bill 715 would make all faculty members at UNC System universities and community colleges at-will employees or employees working on contracts ranging from one to four years.
  • The same bill would require every university and community college to report on all "noninstructional research" performed at the institution, including descriptions of the research and all funds used in the research. The bill would also require that institutions recommend ways to increase instructional time. A similar 2015 review preceded the UNC Board of Governors voting to close three academic centers: The Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill; the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University; and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at NC Central University.
  • Senate Bill 682 would alter the governance of North Carolina’s community colleges, consolidating power in the General Assembly. System presidents, who would be appointed by and beholden to the Assembly, would gain veto power over the selection of local college presidents and could dismiss individual trustees on local campuses. Meanwhile, membership on the State Board of Community Colleges would be determined “entirely by the House and Senate” by 2027.
  • HB 96 dictates a course requirement on US history and government and specifies content for the course and the weight of the final exam. 

The AAUP is working with our allies to defend higher education. Together, we can protect quality education in this country and ensure that our students have the opportunity to learn the truth about our history.



Special Committee to Report on Academic Freedom in Florida

In response to a barrage of hostile legislative and political actions affecting academic freedom and faculty governance in Florida's public higher education institutions, the AAUP has appointed a special committee to review an apparent pattern of politically and racially motivated attacks on higher education in the state. Read more.

AAUP Statements and Reports

  • Florida Bill Would Destroy Higher Education as We Know It. February 2023. With the introduction of HB 999, the Florida legislature—at Governor DeSantis’s urging—has doubled down on its attacks on academic freedom with a bill that would effectively silence faculty and students across the ideological spectrum and purge whole fields of study from public universities.
  • Florida College System Censorship Can Not Stand. January 2023. In a democracy, higher education is a common good which requires that instructors have full freedom in their teaching to select materials and It would determine the approach to the subject. The AAUP is appalled at the actions of the Florida College System presidents,who, while giving lip service to academic freedom, have announced their intention to censor teaching and learning by expunging ideas they want to suppress.
  • AAUP President Cautions Against Lack of Transparency as University of Florida Seeks New President. January 2022. A recent faculty senate report highlighted troubling threats to academic freedom at the University of Florida. And while a presidential search is an opportunity to affirm principles of shared governance, and to highlight transparency and accountability in public higher education, Florida appears poised again to step away from the mission of higher education to serve the common good.
  • Florida's Stop WOKE Act Must Be Rejected by the Court. October 2022. AAUP president Irene Mulvey condemns the recent filing by lawyers for the state of Florida defending the "Stope WOKE Act" and emphasizes that it is educational gag orders like this that are the real threat to American higher education and must be rejected by the court.
  • A Relentless Crusade to Destroy Higher Education in Florida. April 2022. Continuing a relentless crusade to destroy higher education in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis staged a performative and disingenuous press conference on April 19 at which he signed into law Senate Bill 7044, further attacking professors and eroding academic freedom in the state.
  • Freedom in the Classroom. 2007. Addresses efforts to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of "balance," "diversity," and "respect," and why education does not thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.
  • Statement on the "Academic Bill of Rights." 2003. Addresses efforts to redefine and impose principles of "neutrality" and "nonindoctrination" in ways that contradict academic freedom.


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