Hijacking Higher Education: Eliminating university gender studies and diversity initiatives are now core components of Republican political strategy.

AuthorHsu, V. Jo

Florida's House Bill 999 offers a terrifying preview of the conservative agenda for higher education.

The bill, which was passed in early May as this issue of The Progressive goes to print, would grant the Florida Board of Governors sweeping control over course content, employment, and programming across the state's public universities. It would transform the state's public education system into an incubator for far-right politics.

The bill joins a wave of legislation across the country attacking gender studies and critical race theory (CRT), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and academic tenure. It builds on Republicans' long-standing efforts targeting K-12 education. The same day HB 999 was passed, Florida's Senate voted to expand last year's Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Conservatives' three-part strategy for colleges and universities targets different components of campus life--teaching, student services, and faculty employment--but together they conspire to make higher education a hostile environment for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups. In the long run, such measures will compromise the education of all students, prevent schools from attracting faculty and funding, and increase bias within and beyond higher education.

New College of Florida offers an instructive--and terrifying--precedent. Until this year, the Sarasota liberal arts school was known as a haven for queer and transgender students. In January, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis filled New College's board of trustees, which governs the school, with conservative activists. They immediately ousted the college president and replaced her with a Republican politician, Richard Corcoran.

Following the same playbook as conservative legislators, Corcoran and his administration have focused on abolishing DEI, weakening faculty governance, and censoring classroom content. They dissolved the office in charge of diversity and equity and fired the chief diversity officer and the college librarian. They denied tenure to five faculty members whose cases the prior administration had already approved. The college has also received $15 million from the state legislature for student scholarships and to recruit faculty who will overhaul the curriculum.

This weaponization of education is a core component of conservatives' political strategy. That's not an opinion; it's a quote. When Corcoran spoke...

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