March 03 2024

What is Going on in Florida?

Claudia Schippert, Whitney Bauman, and Ann Gleig, AAR Program Committee

students entering a school in Pasco County, FL

You may have noticed almost daily new developments that affect higher education in Florida. As the Florida Governor is preparing for his presidential run, he has been showcasing educational policies he will pursue nationwide. In the name of “freedom from indoctrination”,  Florida is currently being reshaped according to a twisted logic that equates DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion programs) with discrimination, and that considers accurate discussions of history a sure sign of ideological indoctrination. None of this is good news, especially if you teach in the Humanities or Religious Studies — areas that are by the very definition of our fields tasked with addressing issues of diversity and require critical thinking.

Many of us who are teaching in Florida are pretty sure that we are watching the dress rehearsal for a complete reshaping of U.S. public higher education (and K-12 too). From “don’t say gay” and “anti-woke” bills aimed at censoring books or topics of classroom instruction to closing of art exhibits that refuse to exclude some student art work focused on diversity; from outlawing the teaching of certain “concepts” to the re-writing of AP African American history; from defunding DEI programs to mandating the release of student healthcare data related to trans-affirming medical care; from ongoing attacks on tenure that seek to render all university professors at-will employees that can be fired on the spot if they don’t fall in line with specific political perspectives to proposed bills that seek to outlaw entire degrees (like gender studies) or areas of scholarship (like Critical Race Theory): We are witnessing coordinated efforts to whitewash history and reshape public education in Florida in line with an ultra-conservative Christian political agenda thinly veiled as “classical education”. Indeed, the hostile takeover of New College of Florida (with the express goal of reshaping this public university into a “Hillsdale of the South”)  could not more clearly demonstrate the extreme steps Florida politicians are willing to take.  High school teachers are facing felony charges if their classroom contains books that are not on an approved list, those who report on it are fired, and some university instructors have already changed what and how they are teaching.

Faculty are trying to organize, primarily through United Faculty of Florida and our various Professional Associations like the AAR; many of us supported recent student protests like a walkout or local protests at Board of Trustee Meetings. But these still appear small voices amidst the loud and constant onslaught of new initiatives aimed at further curtailing academic freedom and critical thinking in Florida.

We are worried. Very worried. Especially because many university leaders are falling in line (e.g. the FL State College Presidents’  statement in which they pledge their full support for ‘anti-woke’ repression and censorship; or a  Dean’s refusal to post various professional association statements, because “[d]oing so excludes people who don’t align with that organization’s perspective, which is something we want to avoid.”)

Some Resources

While there has been some good news coverage (e.g. here and here and here and here) the situation on the ground is changing by the day. Here are a couple of good resources, if you want to keep up with developments:

The United Faculty of Florida maintain some record of current news coverage and collected statements of support from professional organizations. (Note that Florida is a “right to work” state, which means that we cannot strike. UFF is nonetheless trying to coordinate both information and also organize meaningful protest.)

https://www.staywokefl.com/ and StandForFreedom FL  are student-led organizing groups that collect information and news coverage.  

A Delray Beach-based ‘Start WOKE’(We Organize for Knowledge and Education) community-organized group is forming – for more information email startwokenow@hotmail.com.

AAR Program Committee Director, Whitney Bauman, wrote this piece about the current situation.

Review the ACLS statement endorsed by the AAR Board of Directors.