Students and faculty are concerned a Florida senate bill that passed earlier this year will negatively impact higher education due to cuts in funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs and censorship of educational curriculum.
Dr. Larry Walker, vice president of UCF’s Black Faculty and Staff Association and assistant professor at the College of Community Innovation and Education, said he is worried the jobs of his fellow colleagues are at risk.
“We want to make sure that there are no black faculty and staff members losing jobs as a result of this legislation, particularly those that were hired specifically to teach certain courses and offer support to minoritized students,” Walker said. “It’s certainly a concern for members of our organization about how this will impact them.”
Senate Bill 266 prohibits Florida colleges and universities from spending public money on programs or campus activities that “advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion; or promote or engage in political or social activism.”
SB 266 was proposed in February and specifically addresses higher education curriculums in Florida.
This bill establishes that “general education core courses may not distort significant historical events or teach identity politics and specified concepts related to discrimination,” according to the Bill Summary.
The bill was approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May and went into effect on July 1.
Florida State Sen. Jason Pizzo said that it’s unfortunate that students now are experiencing such challenges to their education, but that this legislation will not be long-lasting or permanent.
“I think this shall pass and will be unpacked and peeled back and all those people who are sycophants and acolytes of the governor and this policy will find themselves jobless in a couple of years,” Pizzo said.
Walker said that he wonders what prompted the drafting of the bill in the first place, considering the diverse demographics of Florida.
“Florida is the third largest state in the country, and also one of the most diverse,” Walker said. “So the question for me is, what issue prompted the drafting of this bill?”
The Black Faculty and Staff Association is part of UCF’s Ginsburg Center for Inclusion and Community Engagement Office of Diversity Education and Training. Others include the Latino Faculty and Staff Association and the PRIDE Faculty and Staff Association.
The Ginsburg Center is only one of several programs dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at UCF. There is also an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as several organizations that promote diversity and inclusion. Some of these organizations are the Diversified Greek Council, the International Student Association and the Society for the Advancement of Minorities in STEM.
In addition to UCF, faculty at other schools throughout Florida are concerned that SB 266 is an “unconstitutional attack upon the freedoms of Florida,” according to a press release by the United Faculty of Florida.
The UFF is a union representing over 25,000 faculty members at schools, colleges and universities across the state.
“UFF stands opposed to this fundamental attack upon the freedoms of all Floridians, and we call on all organizations—public and private, whether in education or otherwise—to stand with us,” the press release said.
The second largest racial/ethnic demographic at UCF is Hispanic/Latino, with 28.2% of the student population made up of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. The university received the designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2019.
Karla Montesinos, senior mechanical engineering major and the marketing chair for UCF’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, said funding for SHPE has been drastically impacted by the bill already.
Montesinos said that the university’s Multicultural Student Center, which is responsible for allocating much of the funding for culturally-based student organizations, has such limited funding that even printer usage in the MSC office is monitored carefully.
“My club had to do intensive sponsorships from companies,” Montesinos said. “We had to go calling and begging, emailing and doing multiple conference calls with a bunch of companies to get money to keep the cost of activities reasonable.”
Montesinos said SHPE members have the opportunity to attend a career conference every year and many students seek and obtain jobs at the event. However, many students were unable to attend this year due to limited funding.
“That’s not fair. I’m about to graduate. I really want a job. And it’s really not up to us because we lost all the funding from the school,” Montesinos said.
Montesinos, who was also the former secretary for the Mexican Student Association at UCF, said that last year, the Mexican Student Association was given permission to display an altar in the Student Union in celebration of Day of the Dead, but the request was denied this year.
“We were able to keep it there for a couple of days,” Montesinos said. “They gave us permission, and I know this year they didn’t give them any permission to do that because it’s a display of your culture.”
DeSantis signed the bill on the New College of Florida campus, prompting students at universities across Florida to protest for their education and their freedom of speech.
One organization known as NCF Freedom came together after DeSantis appointed six new trustees to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees. Jono Miller, president of NCF Freedom, said the newly-appointed trustees intended to end all campus activities that broadly promoted diversity, equity and inclusion.
Miller said NCF Freedom filed a lawsuit for violation of free speech against the state shortly after the bill passed and NCF Freedom continues to take action in its mission toward fighting the law.
“The United States were created to maintain social, political or economic inequities,” Miller said. “And we know that the DeSantis administration has demonstrated the ability to be vindictive.”
Miller said one issue with SB 266 is the vague and undefined nature of terms used within the bill, such as “distort significant historical events” and “promote or engage in political or social activism.”
“The government may have a legitimate interest in what’s taught in schools, but if the government thinks there’s a right and a wrong way or something’s appropriate and something else is inappropriate, they have an obligation to explain that,” Miller said.
Miller said one example of such confusion in the bill falls on professors.
“You cannot teach or have a course which distorts significant historical events,” Miller said. “Well, if you’re a history professor, how are you supposed to interpret that? What does the state think is distorted? And what does the state think is undistorted if there’s only one version of history that the state thinks is appropriate?”
Miller said some of the possible outcomes from this bill could be that university faculty will self-censor out of fear of losing their jobs or funding for their schools, and students seeking academic freedom and open discussion of concepts will choose to leave Florida and pursue higher education elsewhere.
“It’s a scary situation. It’s not good to have a vindictive authoritarian micromanaging what’s happening at the local level,” Miller said.
Source : Nicholson Student Media