Opponents fear Florida colleges will be weakened by education bill

The Senate version of a Higher Education bill, which targets diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as critical race theory concepts or practices, faced debat
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT
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There is resounding fear from opponents that new legislation in Florida will weaken universities and colleges.

The Senate version of a Higher Education bill, which targets diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as critical race theory concepts or practices, faced debate Wednesday.

True to its word, Senate Bill 266 does what it says in its first line — "revising the mission of each state university." In its first committee hearing Wednesday, strong opposition was voiced by the public.

Read the full bill below:

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The first review of the Higher Education bill, which has a companion bill moving through the House, exposed fears that Florida will lose quality faculty.

"This bill will take one of the best-ranked higher education systems in the world and move it to the lowest rank," Andrew Gothard, the president of United Faculty of Florida.

Post-tenure review with cause, which under the bill would be allowed at any time, was a big topic of debate Wednesday.

"Whether Republican or Democrat, we are setting a very bad precedent here in the state," Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said.

Democratic senators raised concerns over tenured faculty possibly being targeted over political affiliations or expressions, but an amendment to the bill was rejected.

Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, voiced his perspective on where the protections lie for faculty.

"Obviously there's a balance when you work for a government institution or a university what you say at the — while you're teaching — while you're in the classroom — is much different than what you're expressing outside of the classroom or outside of your profession that you're being paid for by a public institution," Perry said.

RELATED: FAU students protest proposed bill limiting diversity, equity, inclusion education

The committee heard from professors who fear the hiring and post-tenure review changes will prohibit faculty from taking on research projects that may not align with popular viewpoints. Jones highlighted that university administrations are not commenting on these bills.

"They won't come up here and speak because they fear they will lose their job," Jones said. "What type of state is that to live in?"

Parents spoke out about their concerns over the bill's aim at prohibiting universities from spending on programs that support, adopt or promote diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory.

"I just want to remind you all, these are young adults that are just starting their voting careers," parent Janelle Murphy said. "They are paying attention to these bills and the ways you guys will vote on this."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, closed out Wednesday's discussion by saying this measure ensures higher education does not protect or promote any singular theory.

"There's nothing in this bill that prohibits anything from being taught," Grall said. "What this bill says is that all voices should be heard, that there isn't a one and singular right answer to any of the theories that we discuss in a higher education environment."

The bill is moving through the Senate committees.

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