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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

UF eliminates diversity: What’s known and what remains unclear

The university fired 13 full-time diversity, equity and inclusion roles March 1

Jonathan Pearson, Hailey Pham and Mags Penza play cards while Fernando Guillen studies at Marston Science Library on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Jonathan Pearson, Hailey Pham and Mags Penza play cards while Fernando Guillen studies at Marston Science Library on Sunday, March 3, 2024.

Faculty and students at UF have wondered what will happen to the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs since Gov. Ron DeSantis banned state DEI funding to Florida universities in May 2023. Nine months later, they have their answer.

The university announced it has closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and halted DEI-focused contracts with outside vendors in a memo published March 1. The university also fired 13 full-time DEI positions and ended 15 administrative appointments for faculty, according to UF Spokesperson Cynthia Roldan.

Employees fired will receive 12 weeks of severance pay, during which they are “allowed and encouraged” to apply for different UF positions. The university will “fast-track” the interview process for these employees and answer their applications within the 12-week window, which ends April 19.

UF’s response to a state-ordered spending audit, released to The Alligator Jan. 18, 2023, revealed the university projected spending $5 million, less than 1% of its annual budget, on DEI spending for the 2022-2023 school year.

The $5 million in funds previously allocated to DEI initiatives will be reallocated into a faculty recruitment fund managed by UF provost, according to the memo.

Student-run clubs not receiving state funding will not be affected.

“As we educate students by thoughtfully engaging a wide range of ideas and views, we will continue to foster a community of trust and respect for every member of the Gator Nation,” the memo read.

The order, contextualized

DeSantis issued a memo in December 2022 requesting Florida universities report all spending allocated to DEI and critical race theory. Florida then passed a bill banning state spending on DEI in May 2023 that took effect in July. 

In November, the Florida Board of Governors adopted a loose interpretation of “DEI” and “social activism” through Regulation 9.016. The Board approved the regulation at its meeting Jan. 24. 

Now, universities across the state are seeing the full effect of the law. The University of North Florida closed its LGBTQ+ and women’s centers last month. Florida International University eliminated its DEI division shortly afterward.

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While remaining universities, including Florida State University and the University of Central Florida, have yet to share how the law will affect their programs, the memo represents UF’s first clarification of how its own campus will be affected.

Unclear: College DEI administration’s employment statuses

The largest share of the university’s $5 million in DEI spending went to college administration, including salaries for diversity-focused positions such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion, who was salaried at $141,080 for the 2022-2023 school year.

Most deans identified in the January 2023 report have since changed their job titles to exclude the words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion.” For example, the former associate dean for diversity, inclusion and global affairs at the College of Nursing is now the associate dean for community engagement and global affairs.

Others, like former Associate Dean for DEI in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Bianca Evans-Donaldson, have dropped superlatives from their title altogether. Evans-Donaldson’s title is now simply associate dean.

It’s unclear whether their altered position titles have saved these employees’ jobs under the memo.

After reaching out to all college administrators with current or former diversity-related positions through phone and email, The Alligator was unable to confirm any of their current employment statuses.

Jean-Marie Stacciarini, former associate dean for DEI and current associate dean for community engagement and global affairs in the College of Nursing, shared on a phone call March 1 she could not confirm whether or not she was still employed with UF.

Michael Bowie, former associate dean for DEI and current assistant dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine, said faculty are still figuring everything out and that people’s lives are being affected by the memo. Bowie had no comment on his own employment status.

Donna Parker, former associate dean for diversity and health equity and current associate dean for healthcare excellence, community and belonging in the College of Medicine, is on extended medical leave, reported her office on a phone call March 1.

The remaining administrators, including diversity-related deans in the colleges for law, pharmacy and education, could not be reached as of March 3.

Unclear: Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement

The memo did not disclose the future of the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement, which runs offices for Black, Latino, Asian American, Desi, Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ student engagement on the second floor of the Reitz Student Union.

The CIME has three administrative faculty and five student engagement officers according to its website. It received $400,000 in the 2022-2023 operating budget, 85% of which was state-funded.

Diversity resources like the CIME make the UF campus a safer place for underrepresented students in a way smaller, student-funded clubs can’t always replicate, said 19-year-old UF applied kinesiology sophomore Carolina Villarini. She often visits the Latino center in the CIME to eat lunch and talk with friends.

Villarini’s sex controversies class discussed UF’s DEI department in class Feb. 28. Her professor and class were shocked when the office was defunded just days later, she said.

“It just adds onto, ‘Why is this state moving backwards and backwards, and we can’t just move forward and accept people and make people feel safe?’” she said.

Unclear: Graduate student diversity initiatives

UF graduate diversity initiatives, as identified in the report, include the Office of Graduate Diversity Initiatives and SF2UF, a Santa Fe College to UF bridge program prioritizing outreach to underrepresented SF transfer students.

Since The Alligator last reported on graduate DEI initiatives Jan. 29, OGDI has shut down its Instagram and Facebook pages. Its website was already out of commission at the time of The Alligator’s last report.

Representatives from SF2UF were unavailable for comment.

Changing regulations around DEI don’t pose much of a concern to Everett Schwieg, a 23-year-old UF biomedical engineering Master’s student. He doesn’t think graduate students are as interested or affected by campus happenings as undergraduates, he said.

Aside from the regulation banning UF international graduate student recruitment, no initiatives for or against diversity have played a role in his graduate student experience, Schwieg said. He attributes his noninterest to the fact he doesn’t fall into any minority groups as well as his graduate student status, he said.

“The university’s just following the state government’s policy,” he said. “I think it’s more of a higher-up thing. I don’t really blame UF for following the rules, because it’s a public university.”

Office of the Chief Diversity Officer closed, DEI-related academic courses still available

The memo also closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, which employed three full-time faculty members. 

CDO Marsha McGriff, a member of the president’s cabinet, was hired in 2021 and was salaried at $300,000 in Fall 2022. Other office employees were Farrah Harvey and Wilma Rogers.

McGriff, Harvey and Rogers were unavailable for comment. The former Chief Diversity Office website, which was active as of March 2, now redirects to the university’s home page.

Aside from salaries to college DEI administration and Chief Diversity Office operations, the biggest portion of UF’s $5 million in diversity funding went to academic classes, the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement and graduate school initiatives.

All but one of the 10 UF courses identified on the audit are still available to students for the Fall 2024 semester. Language in the USA is not on the university’s course list for the Fall, nor is it being offered currently.

Students react: “Moving backwards and backwards”

Both of Florida’s United States senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, responded to The Alligator’s post on X to celebrate the university’s announcement, with Scott complimenting UF President Ben Sasse for doing “all the right things” at UF and encouraging other universities to follow his lead. DeSantis also responded to The Alligator via X celebrating the news. 

“DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities,” he wrote. “I’m glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI and I hope more states follow suit.”

Neither the memo nor the Florida statute it complies with were credited to Sasse. Rather, Provost Scott Angle, general council Amy Hass and Vice President for Human Resources Melissa Curry issued the memo.

Sasse has been active on X since the memo announcement, but none of his eight posts between March 1 and 2 concerned DEI. Instead, he raved about Gator alumnus Wyatt Langford’s first major league home run and got in an argument under a college baseball podcast’s post.

But many students in Gainesville are less celebratory than their representatives in Tallahassee.

Amelia Chambers, a 22-year-old UF neuroscience senior, said she has a particular interest in diversity initiatives because of her health disparities minor. But even among her friends outside the health disparities field, the memo has raised concerns, she said.

Rebecca Rollins, a 20-year-old UF biology sophomore, thinks there’s “no way” Sasse’s appointment to the presidency last year isn’t somehow connected to anti-DEI regulations, she said.

“How do you come to the school and, in your first calendar year, take away an entire department?” she said. “There’s been in the air homophobia, transphobia, just across the board, especially since Sasse came here.”

Maxwell Fletcher, a 19-year-old UF civil engineering sophomore who’s been following the de-funding bill throughout its legislative journey, is slower to blame the university. But he still thinks the ban creates a bad look for Florida and UF nationwide, he said.

“It certainly does not point to education and higher education of Florida in a great light, especially if we are trying to improve rankings,” he said. “Even if it is a state policy, there are ways to fight it, and I unfortunately don’t believe that the University of Florida did the best job they could with that.”

UF students have waited months to find out how DEI restrictions will affect their university. Based on the past days’ confusion, they’ll have to wait a while longer to understand them in full. 

Contact Zoey Thomas at Follow her on X @zoeythomas39.

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 

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