The average American university has more than 45 individuals with jobs devoted to promoting so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI programs push divisive identity politics as well as distorted narratives about American history. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is once again leading on this issue, taking a first step in clamping down on these counterproductive positions and administrative bloat.
In order to provide taxpayers and parents with transparency around what tax dollars are funding within the halls of state colleges and universities in Florida, the governor’s office sent a letter to the state Department of Education this week requesting that the agency, along with public universities, provide information on initiatives and expenditures associated with DEI programs and critical race theory.
Each institution must provide by this Friday, Jan. 13, a brief description of the program or activity, the number of full and full-time-equivalent employees involved, the total funding to support the initiative, and the amount of state funding spent.
It’s a welcome survey. Florida State University has at least 31 personnel dedicated to DEI efforts, and the University of Florida has at least 29, which is likely only the tip of the DEI iceberg on that campus. Numerous such staff members are on the payrolls of Florida’s 38 other state colleges and universities.
Getting a full accounting of costs associated with the many programs and initiatives will paint a fuller picture of just how much taxpayer money is funding DEI efforts—efforts that are counterproductive to fostering welcoming environments for all students and that cement divisive, identity-focused politics on campus.
On average across the country, universities employ four times as many DEI staff as staff dedicated to helping students with disabilities, according to research by The Heritage Foundation’s Jay Greene and the Educational Freedom Institute’s James Paul. Their research also found that universities employ 1.4 times as many DEI staff as history professors.
The problem is that this proliferation of DEI personnel and initiatives is not improving student satisfaction with their higher education experience. Rather, it is increasing bureaucratic bloat and “may be better understood as jobs programs subsidizing political activism without improving campus climate,” as Greene and Paul explain.
DeSantis’ most recent move follows other important measures his administration has taken to rein in the Left’s capture of academic institutions funded by Florida taxpayers, such as:
- The Stop WOKE Act. This law prohibits public school districts and colleges from hiring critical race theory consultants and codifies Florida’s prohibition on the application of critical race theory in K-12 schools. It also prohibits employers from requiring employees to participate in DEI training. “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory … We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis stated when he announced the proposal in December 2021. While a federal judge paused aspects of the law in November, the governor is expected to appeal the decision.
- The Parental Rights in Education Act. This law stipulates that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” It puts parents—rather than public schools, which should be focused on teaching young children to read and write—in the driver’s seat on sensitive topics like sexual orientation and “gender identity.”
- Senate Bill 7044. This law requires universities to periodically change accrediting agencies in an effort to reduce the “inordinate amount of power” held by accrediting bodies, DeSantis said. Requiring periodic changes in accrediting agencies may also mean colleges aren’t pressured to increase DEI initiatives in order to remain in good standing with the accreditation cartel. For example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools released a DEI position statement that reads in part that it “supports and encourages the leadership role of its institutions in promoting and sustaining diversity, equity and inclusion in all arenas of higher education.” The law also requires professors to undergo “comprehensive post-tenure review” every five years to provide performance accountability.
- Alternative Pathways Into the Classroom. In August, DeSantis announced changes to the Florida Administrative Code that provide a pathway for veterans and returning service members to obtain temporary teaching licenses. Downplaying or ending certification requirements to teach (including the requirement that teachers possess a teaching degree, with no consideration for real-world experience as a substitute qualification) would address purported teacher shortages while also weakening the power of ineffective and woke colleges of education.
From providing parents with more transparency relative to what their children are taught in schools and protecting children from the discrimination of critical race theory to weakening the accreditation cartel and shining sunlight on DEI, Florida is leading the way in weakening the Left’s capture of education institutions.
It’s a big reason—along with expansive school choice options for families and a good return on investment for taxpayers—the state ranked first on The Heritage Foundation’s inaugural Education Freedom Report Card.
As 2023 legislative sessions kick off across the country, it will be exciting to see what other states follow suit.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal