Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix
Republican lawmakers are proposing to expand legislation that would further limit majors and minors available to Florida university students, which would exacerbate concerns from faculty and other opponents of the bill that has already shaken up higher education in the state.
The legislation also would further undermine tenure protections for professors.
The bill in question is HB 999 and it’s called Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions. Lawmakers will be discussing an updated version at a Monday committee meeting, where they will decide whether to accept or reject new expanded language in the bill.
The American Association of University Professors said that the proposed language would “enact the most draconian restrictions on higher ed in US history. It bans all majors & minors in ANY critical theory & allow unqualified political appointees to call for post-tenure review of any faculty member at any time,” according to a Saturday tweet.
As currently written, HB 999 prompts the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, to give “direction to each constituent university on removing from its programs any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems,” according to the legislation.
But lawmakers will consider an expansion to the bill Monday which would direct the Board of Governors to “provide direction to each constituent university to remove from its programs any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory, including, but not limited to, Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality, as defined in Board of Governors regulation.”
The majors and minors listed in a staff analysis, which is created by the GOP-controlled Legislature, may not reflect what these majors or minors are actually called in other higher education settings.
The new proposed language would also affect general education courses in the state’s colleges and universities, according to what is called a proposed committee substitute.
The new language prohibits general education courses from using curriculum “associated with Critical Theory” and other topics.
There are also concerns about how the legislation, both current and the proposed language, would devalue tenure protections for professors.
The current version of HB 999 says that the board of trustees at a university can issue a review of a tenured professor at any point “with cause.”
But the new proposed language adds broad definitions for what would constitute as cause, which includes but is not limited to “poor performance, negligence, inefficiency or inability to perform assigned duties, insubordination, violation of any applicable law or rule, conduct unbecoming a public employee, misconduct, drug abuse, or conviction of any crime.”
Monday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a “roundtable discussion” about his administration’s plan to eliminate critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at universities and colleges. He referenced HB 999 and its Senate version, SB 266, during the roundtable.
“We are in current legislative session, we are pursuing legislative solutions to what we’re seeing with DEI and in Florida universities… and these bills affectively eliminate DEI and other types of discriminatory programs and activities,” DeSantis said during the roundtable.
He also discussed a provision in the legislation that would prohibit universities from requiring employees “pledge” any statement about “diversity, equity, and inclusion, Critical Race Theory rhetoric, or political identity or ideology.”
HB 999 makes an exception for this provision regarding pledges to “uphold general and federal law, the United States Constitution, and the State Constitution.”
“But it (HB 999) also prohibits soliciting pledges of the DEI or CRT or any political viewpoint as a condition of hiring promotion or admissions,” DeSantis said at the Monday roundtable.
“And I think what we found is people have to sign these statements in order to be considered to be hired. And if you take the position that everyone should just be treated equally regardless of their race, that is viewed negatively because you’re not accepting kind of the critical theory framework. And so that clearly has no place in American institutions.” DeSantis claimed.
The staff analysis of the legislation does not mention whether these “pledges” are occurring in Florida colleges or universities.
The roundtable discussion included Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., Chancellor Ray Rodrigues with the Board of Governors and Christopher Rufo, a New College Board of Trustee member and conservative figurehead. New College is a public university in Sarasota.
Update: The House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee approved a proposed committee substitute for HB 999 Monday, replacing the language of the original bill.
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