Higher education restructuring imminent as Florida House passes SB266

Diego Diaz | Asst. News Director  

Making good on their word, the Republican-led Florida House passed Senate Bill 266, a bill with far reaching consequences for Florida’s collegiate system.

The legislation has already sparked four protests on campus, three of those being led by the Free FIU, a faculty/student coalition organizing against SB266.

Opposition point to a litany of potentially detrimental proposals, including the dismantling of diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy, prohibiting curriculum from utilizing “Critical Theory” and stripping university departments of agency in the faculty hiring process.

Though notable changes have been made to the bill, such as removing the blatant banning of DEI departments and programming, those in Free FIU contend the rewording will leave the bill unchanged in practice.

“As someone who has to teach, the restriction on what I’m allowed to teach and how I’m allowed to teach is awful,” said Randi Spiker, psychology Ph.D student.

Spiker is a member of Grad Wages & Rights at FIU, an organization within Free FIU which had originally been organized to advocate for an increase in graduate student wages, waiving of academic fees and increased healthcare coverage. 

Now, graduate students are concerned if those wages will even be around.  

“I work on a diversity program, that’s my graduate assistantship,” said Bailey Bond-Trittipo, Engineering and Computing Education Ph.D. student and graduate assistant for the department’s Equity Research Group.

“If SB 266 passes, we could be at risk of losing our jobs.”

This is all without mentioning the potential risk this legislation poses to graduate student research. 

“For instance, if they were to ban majors and minors in gender studies, African American studies and Latin American studies, my global and sociocultural committee members would probably lose their job, which means I would not have enough committee members to complete my Ph.D.,” said Spiker.

Moreover, the ban on funding or supporting any organization based on “race, color, national origin, sex, disability or religion.” 

For Alexandra Cornelius, director of FIU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, SB 266 signals the end of the center, and with it, an invaluable hub for education and research.

“The courses we offer are challenging, thought-provoking and teach students how to think critically about the world in which we live,” said Cornelius. “So we were really taken aback by the idea that someone thought that these courses were not worthy or were without value.”

Cornelius also spoke of the importance of intersectionality, or the study of discrimination through an individual’s varying identities be they gender, class or race. Though intersectionality has been removed from the list of prohibited concepts, it would still in practice be prohibited due to its acknowledgment of systemic inequalities.

“For example, we have an initiative on black maternal health. We have courses that will prepare students to be able to better serve birthing persons of a variety of communities,” said Cornelius. 

“We hope that by doing that, we’ll actually become even more well known for being a university that prepares students who can serve our very diverse Miami community.”

In the same vein, Ronald Cox, professor of politics and international relations, contends that the bill’s focus on post-graduation hiring rates obscures the value of higher education, while it doesn’t acknowledge the hiring rates of non-STEM graduates.

“It’s an assault on the ability of academic institutions to tailor their teaching towards serious intellectual pursuits that are not necessarily connected to market ideas, the essence of liberal arts,” said Cox. 

“What’s funny too, is if you look at the data on how well liberal arts majors do in the job market, it’s pretty damn good because they know how to write, they know how to think critically and they’re adaptable.” 

Beyond the economic impact, students also fear the erasure of critical services and clubs that offer safe spaces for students with compromised home lives. 

Natural applied science and psychology student Ace believes the legislation’s defunding of PSU and the Social Justice and Inclusion office would dissuade potential students from applying to FIU. Ace’s last name is omitted due to conflict at home regarding his gender identity.

“You lose a sense of belonging, and that’s one of the most important things to feel while attending university,” said Ace. “A lot of people might be deterred from seeking higher education because they don’t see themselves there.”

Additional reporting by Paloma Pimentel. 

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