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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

New state rules limit bathroom access at Florida universities, remove sociology class from general education

State higher education officials voted on the new regulations Thursday

University faculty and staff could be fired for using restrooms that don’t align with their sex assigned at birth under a new state regulation.

The regulation was passed near-unanimously Thursday to comply with House Bill 1521, known as the Safety in Private Spaces Act, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in May. 

The bill requires state universities to have designated bathrooms and changing facilities for males and females. If a person enters a public bathroom that doesn’t align with their gender assigned at birth, they can now be charged under Florida Statutes with trespassing. 

Members of the LGBTQ+ community at UF have criticized the bill as discriminatory, citing concerns that it would empower people to enact “vigilante violence” against transgender and nonbinary people using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

The new regulation stipulates that university employees who violate the rule can be punished with “disciplinary actions up to and including dismissal.”

The Board of Governors, which operates the state’s public university system, passed the regulation at a Thursday meeting in a 15-2 vote. 

Amanda Phalin, a UF business professor and chair of the board’s advisory council of faculty senates, vocally opposed the regulation.

“Currently there is no empirical evidence that links granting transgender individuals access to corresponding gender bathrooms that results in increased sexual offenses,” Phalin told the board. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests there is an increase of violence against women who present as masculine, she added.

Sociology to no longer fulfill core requirement

The board also moved to make changes to "general education core courses,” which included changes to an introductory sociology course.

Principles of Sociology will still be available to students, but will no longer fill core social science requirements. A course in civic literacy will take its place. 

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The change was made to satisfy new requirements under State Bill 266, a sweeping set of higher education signed into law in May. The law requires a review of the state college and university systems' core courses in five subject areas. 

Faculty committees provided recommendations for the new core course requirements. The committees ultimately decided to add Introduction to Geology and Introduction to Oceanography to natural science offerings, and Introductory Survey to 1877 to social science offerings.

Before a regulation amending the course requirements to reflect the committees’ suggestions was moved to a vote, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz suggested removing Principles of Sociology from the social sciences offerings.

Diaz said students could use the course to fulfill a new requirement to demonstrate civic literacy competency.

The move elicited pushback from Phalin and Jack Hitchcock, a student representative on the board. 

“Adding the [history] class promotes civic engagement and education,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t know how deleting Principles of Sociology promotes civic engagement and education.”

The regulation will be made available for public comment for 14 days before the board votes on final approval.

Contact Garrett Shanley at Follow him on Twitter @garrettshanley.

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Garrett Shanley

Garrett Shanley is a third-year journalism and history major and The Alligator's Fall 2023 university administration reporter. In his free time, Garrett can be found watching Wong Kar-Wai movies and brooding.

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