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Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Opinions generic

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP state legislature have advanced Florida House Bill 999 to restrict higher education academic freedom. 

HB 999 is intentionally broad, vague and threatening. 

It prevents faculty and students at public universities from freely investigating, studying and teaching without fear of government censorship: It "prohibits a state college, state university, or one of their direct-support organizations, from expending state or federal funds on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs or activities." 

Faculty tenure and positions can be terminated by the Board of Governors for violating HB 999. 

The campus will be transformed from a sense of open intellectual exploration and communication to “if I say something that is not allowed — what’s next? Is some authority coming after me?” 

As I reflect on these current threats, I think back to when I was a student in 1966, and Stephen Stills’ song “For What It’s Worth” comes to mind:

“There’s something happening here, What it is ain’t exactly clear … Paranoia strikes deep, Into your life it will creep, It starts when you’re always afraid, You step out of line, the man come take you away.”

It is time for the citizens of Florida, and faculty and students of Florida’s universities and colleges, to come together in responsible and thoughtful ways to stop DeSantis’ attack on free speech and academic freedom. 

The following fictional account reflects what we may next experience, and it won’t stop here:

DeSantis has announced that his mission is to make Florida the freest state in the union. He claims he is reviewing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the American Meteorological Association (AMS) and related organizations in their roles in promoting the use of “rainbow” in meteorological curricula across the state. 

He has stated that the word “rainbow” is extensively overused in Florida university and college’s meteorological courses. He has said that it is obvious that these “woke” organizations are grooming students by conflating the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) with sexual orientation and identity (LGBTQ+).

To preserve academic freedom, the governor is planning a confidential survey of faculty sexual orientation and identity, as well as roles, responsibilities and funding sources. 

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In addition, he is directing the Florida Department of Education to replace rainbow in all curricula with more appropriate word and to investigate the overuse of words like “spectrum,” “multicolored” and “kaleidoscopic.” 

To protect the state’s economy, he plans to ban NOAA, AMS, and other “woke” associations and agencies from conducting national conferences at Disney World. 

DeSantis stated that, just like AP courses and Disney, there are other options: “NOAA, AMS and related agencies and organizations are now unnecessary, as we can get weather information anytime on our phone apps.” 

In closing, the governor reiterated he is committed to making “Florida the freest state in the union.”

This fictional account has not happened yet, but it certainly may occur in the future. Who would ever believe that the governor would so seriously attack academic freedom as part of his political foundation? 

As a pediatrician, I have spent my entire career protecting vulnerable children. 

DeSantis’ proclamations that he is protecting the rights of the citizens of Florida, scapegoating and dehumanizing some of the most vulnerable people for political gain, is profoundly dishonest and mean. 

Perhaps these people are “now unnecessary” like AP courses and Disney. 

And DeSantis is not stopping here.

John A. Nackashi, MD, PhD is UF emeritus professor in the College of Medicine. 

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