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Florida drafts regulations that clarify DEI prohibitions at colleges and universities

Florida Board of Governors meet in person at the University of South Florida on June 22. Prohibited funding for DEI programs will be discussed at the next meeting on Nov. 8-9 at the University of Central Florida.
Florida Board of Governors
The Florida Channel
Florida Board of Governors meet in person at the University of South Florida on June 22. Prohibited funding for DEI programs will be discussed at the next meeting on Nov. 8-9 at the University of Central Florida.

The state is outlining how it would eliminate funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida's colleges and universities and limit political and social activism on campuses.

The Florida Board of Governors released the draft regulations to higher education leaders for comment earlier this month.

The regulations will help them implement a law that took effect in July, prohibiting funding for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, on campuses.

The draft defines what those programs are and outlines what types of political and social activism activities are prohibited.

DEI programs are defined as "any program, activity, or policy that promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals, or classifies such individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation."

Political and social activism is defined as "any activity organized with a purpose of effecting or preventing change to a government policy, action, or function, or any activity intended to achieve a desired result related to social issues, where the university endorses or promotes a position in communications, advertisements, programs, or campus activities."

In a statement to WUSF, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said the board is "required to adopt regulations to prevent funds from going to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, political or social activism, discriminatory organizations, or activities that violate (statute) 1000.05."

The statute prohibits discrimination against students and employees in the state public education system and requires equality of access.

Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) has concerns the language of the draft will create an environment on campuses where faculty feel unable to express themselves or sponsor certain campus organizations.

"When you create this environment where faculty are not going to sponsor organizations, where faculty are going to shy away from highlighting student research that talks about DEI, or maybe be hesitant to do research on DEI, then you are censoring our faculty members, and you are going against the First Amendment," she said.

When the draft was released, Eskamani posted it on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Adrienne Lu is a senior reporter with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

She said while the draft carves out an exception for organizations funded solely through student fees, any initiatives funded by the state or federal governments would not be allowed.

"Many colleges and universities across the country have gone to great lengths to try to help recruit and retain underrepresented students both because they want to help those students, and also because it's important to their bottom line," Lu said.

But many of those efforts would not be allowed under this new regulation, including programs designed to attract women in STEM fields and LGBTQ+ students.

Lu said critics of Florida's law say it has already had a chilling effect on campuses.

"We have heard anecdotally, from many professors that they and their colleagues, they're not sure where to draw the line," she said. "So they are going out of their way to avoid anything that might be misconstrued or a student might believe violates the law."

If the draft is approved by the Budget and Finance Committee on Nov. 8 and at the Board of Governor's meeting Nov. 9, it will then be available for public comment for 14 days. Rodrigues said after review, the regulation could come before the board for final approval at the board meeting on Jan. 24-25.

Eskamani said she fears the regulation will provide teeth to Florida's law.

"I'm very concerned that this rule is going to make a bad situation worse," she said. "And in creating a culture of censorship, impacting our competition on not just the students we recruit and the students that graduate, but of course, the faculty we hire, the research that we develop, the grants we can apply for. It has a ripple effect on the entire state university system."

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Meghan Bowman