Opponents fear Florida bill targeting DEI programs will harm cultures on college campuses

TALLAHASSEE – As a bill that would dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at Florida’s public colleges and universities winds its way through the legislature, opponents to the bill are speaking to News4JAX about what they fear the bill will do to the cultures on campus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office says the bill is needed to push back on liberal tactics that suppress free thought in the name of identity politics. Jacksonville Pastor John Newman, who is also an executive instructor for diversity, equity and inclusion at Howard University, says there’s a lot of misinformation about what DEI really is.

“We need an informed campus. We need to inform schools you don’t do that by taking away information,” Newman said.

In an analogy, he says many people have the impression that DEI refers to giving up a seat for someone else to include them at the table, while Newman says DEI is really about making that table bigger.

“And when you get a larger table, you are allowing other people who haven’t had access to the table to be at the table. So you cannot have diversity, equity and inclusion and have exclusion — it is oxymoronic,” Newman said.

Newman is concerned that the passage of House Bill 999 would result in college campuses losing the synergy that leads to independent and creative thought. He says eliminating DEI funding and programs at Florida’s public colleges and universities would deprive students of a diverse range of experiences and cheapen higher education.

“And you don’t make it as rich as it needs to be, and I think that’s the dangerous thing to do down that pathway,” Newman said.

In the original bill, authored by Rep. Alex Andrade of Pensacola, it reads in part that universities and colleges:

“...may not expend any state or federal funds to promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities that:

  • (a) Promote the concepts listed in s. 1000.05(4)(a)
  • (b) Advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion;
  • (c) Promote or engage in political or social activism; or
  • (d) Include or espouse, as government speech or expressive activity of the Florida College System institution or state university or its direct-support organization speaking or acting on the Florida College System institution’s or state university’s behalf, preferential treatment or special benefits to individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion

The bill also authorizes state universities to initiate post tenure reviews at any time for cause for employees and prohibits schools from using statements for or against certain viewpoints related to DEI as part of any hiring or promotion process.

House Bill 999 does away with DEI administrators, who proponents say have used diversity, equity and inclusion to shut down speech they do not agree with and inject arguments for discrimination in the name of equity.

But critics of the bill, like Pastor Christopher McKee of the Church of Oakland, say House Bill 999 threatens to silence speech, questioning whether Florida is what many have called a “free state.”

“The question becomes freedom for whom, you know, if we’re going to be an inclusive and diverse state, then that means it needs to be a state that is safe and free for everybody,” McKee said. “And clearly, if we are looking at silencing and/or attacking initiatives that tried to make college campuses more safe and more free and open to students from again, various backgrounds, various perspectives, various life stories, anything that would seek to stop that is not good.”

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.