Florida Higher Ed Faces an Ideologically Driven Assault Unparalleled in US History

Earlier this year, the AAUP established a special committee to review the apparent pattern of politically, racially, and ideologically motivated attacks on public higher education in Florida. Today, after interviewing dozens of faculty members at multiple public colleges and universities in the state, the committee has released a preliminary report concluding that academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance in Florida’s public colleges and universities currently face a politically and ideologically driven assault unparalleled in US history. If sustained, this onslaught threatens the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state, with dire implications for the entire country.

The report includes four main findings:

The Florida governor and state legislature are using their swift, aggressive, and ongoing “hostile takeover” of New College of Florida as a test case for future encroachments on public colleges and universities across the country. This “takeover” has proceeded through Governor DeSantis’s appointment of a slate of six highly partisan trustees, five of whom live outside the state and are publicly known as right-wing activists, to New College’s board of trustees. Their goals are to transform New College into a flagship right-wing institution by restructuring the administration and academic departments, developing a “new core curriculum,” and eliminating all diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.

Academic administrators throughout Florida’s public university and college systems, from the highest to the lowest levels not only have failed to contest these attacks but have too frequently been complicit in and, in some cases, explicitly supported them. While some individuals are leaving as a matter of conscience, those who remain face the prospect of serving as pawns in DeSantis’s corrupt patronage system.

The Florida legislature has passed a series of bills that, taken collectively, constitute a systematic effort to dictate and enforce conformity with a narrow and reactionary political and ideological agenda throughout the state’s higher education system. These efforts grievously undermine basic and long-standing principles of academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance. A key component of this agenda has been an effort to destroy college and university programs that serve minority communities and to banish from classrooms ideas and information about race, gender, and sexual identity that fail to conform to the prejudices of politicians. 

Although several pieces of legislation proposed by the DeSantis administration have been stalled by legal challenges, the resulting self-censorship and fear are damaging the quality of public higher education in the state and are now spilling over into private institutions in Florida.

The committee is continuing its work, interviewing faculty members and others, as events in Florida continue to unfold.  This preliminary report will be followed by a more comprehensive final report, expected by fall.

The full preliminary report from the AAUP special committee on Florida can be found here.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, May 24, 2023