“They are political ideologues,” inside Governor Desantis’ higher education reform (Part 1)

Proposal sheet published simultaneously with DeSantis’ announcement. Via Governor Ron DeSantis Twitter.

Diego Diaz | Asst. News Director 

Continuing his crusade against alleged ‘liberal indoctrination’ within Florida’s public institutions, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled a sweeping range of proposals geared at restructuring Florida’s higher education.

Policies referenced DeSantis’ rogue gallery of “divisive subjects” including prohibiting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statements within hiring practices and public universities from supporting campus activities or programs related to DEI, or Critical Race Theory. 

“The governor’s latest attempt to restrict free speech and erase the history and legacy of discrimination in America by impeding the rights to share ideas and receive information in classrooms is dangerous for our democracy and future generations,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Just as alarming to opposition voices however, has been the proposed influx of power to university presidents and board of trustees, all the while reducing the power of faculty and university departments.    

Key to this power transfer are the projected changes to tenure. Tenure had already been targeted by the Florida Board of Governors through a proposal calling for tenure review every five years, with the choice of retention being left solely to the university provost. 

“This regulation eliminates tenure in all but name, weaponizing a popular misunderstanding of tenure as a job for life rather than the assurance of due process that it is,” stated Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida in a guest column. 

Under the new proposals, university presidents and BOTs would be allowed to call for post-tenure reviews at will. As such, tenure would be at the complete disposition of university administrators.

In this same vein, DeSantis’ proposal also gives university presidents preeminent hiring power, shifting power away from faculty and departments. The governor contends this would combat faculty committees from binding presidents into choosing from a small pool of recommended candidates.

For Thomas Breslin, FIU professor of international relations and political science, policies such as these exemplify the ineffective bureaucratic practices Republicans purportedly stand opposed to.   

“If your institution is hiring 100 people a year, do you want to look at 100 times, 100 Curriculum Vitae to decide and then do background checks,” said Breslin. “It’s not just the CV’s you look at: every one of those candidates, be it for a job or promotion, has to have three or more letters of references from people alongside CVs.”

“Basically, the governor has never been an administrator in a university… if you ran a university office, you would understand how many people are involved in the recommendation.”

As an example of how these policies would work in unison, critics and supporters alike point to DeSantis’ recent conservative shake-up of New College of Florida. 

The governor had appointed six of the 13 BOT members early January, leading to a vote ousting then President Patricia Okker, replacing her with DeSantis ally and former Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran as interim president.

Breslin argues that DeSantis’ treatment of New College exemplifies the governor’s privileging of politics over education.

 “What about the ongoing operations where you have a stewardship obligation, stewardship doesn’t seem to be a concept in the minds of these people,” said Breslin. ”They’re political ideologues.”

Moreover, Breslin contends these policies serve as a political distraction from the true issue facing Florida’s public universities, inequitable public funding.

 “It’s a distraction from the distribution of resources, particularly, between the inequity suffered by the urban universities at all levels, versus the flagship schools, which have made out like bandits.” 

As one of the first faculty members to join FIU’s Politics & International Relations Department with over 35 years of Administrative experience, Breslin has been at the vanguard of Florida’s higher education.

In the nine governorships experienced during his time in academia, none have come closer to destabilizing Florida’s higher education system than current governor Ron DeSantis.

“This is a horrible departure from good academic administration, it’s reckless,” said Breslin. “It puts at risk the investment of the people of Florida over many, many decades, and I’m just absolutely piqued.”

The second portion of this story will focus on DeSantis’ targeting of diversity, equity and inclusion as well as critical race theory in public universities.  

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