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Friday, June 02, 2023
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Florida is exceptional, different, sometimes a bit quirky. 

This is apparent in its vibrant diversity and celebration of its many cultures. 

However, in recent years, the Florida legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis have made the state exceptional through a political agenda that is detrimental to the people of Florida — bills that have already been enacted. 

These include laws such as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act (House Bill 7) and the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill (House Bill 1557), which limit free speech and balanced teaching throughout the public education system in Florida. 

While older people may see Florida as their ideal retirement state, younger adults who still have their working days ahead of them see the recent political environment as a disadvantage to remaining in or relocating to Florida. 

Now, a new bill is supposed to take limiting higher education to a new level by erasing any initiatives at public state universities that teach students or educate faculty and staff about diversity and inclusion in and outside the classroom. 

The new bill, House Bill 999, which will become law by July 2023 if the legislature and DeSantis approve it, proposes that each constituent university “remove from its programs any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory.”

It also proposes that the Board of Trustees be responsible for hiring faculty for the university, and that university presidents may provide hiring recommendations, without consideration of  recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups. 

It also prohibits universities from using diversity, equity and inclusion statements, “Critical Race Theory rhetoric” or other forms of “political identity or ideology” as part of the hiring process.

Let’s be clear about what this and other bills are aiming to accomplish: They seek to create an environment that is hostile to free and open speech, and will suppress Florida’s ability to attract the best and brightest minds, regardless of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity. 

At UF, the current equity resources like the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement, Office for Accessibility and Gender Equity, Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and the Presidential LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee are in danger of elimination. 

Even whole departments and majors such as the departments of gender, sexuality and women’s studies and African-American studies are at risk of disappearing. 

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Several students at our university have majors and minors that are offered by these departments and are currently enrolled in classes that satisfy requirements for their chosen area of study. They will be at a disadvantage if they cannot take these classes; their ability to think freely and learn about concepts that interest them are essential elements of their college experiences. 

By attempting to limit students’ options for their studies, any lawmaker who supports HB 999 is doing a tremendous disservice to academic freedom and the greater pursuit of education. 

This attack will recklessly move Florida’s secondary education system backwards, causing underrepresented identities to feel as if their sheer existence is a political debate, especially since they would be prevented from conducting their own independent research regarding these subjects should this bill be signed into law.

These bills are meant to eradicate historically underrepresented groups across the board, eliminate hard truths about American history and instill a fear in staff and faculty at public institutions of higher education that they will lose their job if they speak up.

If this ongoing, clearly political, reshaping of the Florida education system continues, then, as a contributor on television recently stated in response to HB999, “Florida will be the place where higher education goes to die.”

Oliver Grundmann is a clinical professor in the UF College of Pharmacy. UF students and professors Madeline Flint, Damon Veras, Brent C. Christner and Ryan F. Need also contributed to this column.

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