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Give Ron DeSantis the credit for it: The Republican Governor of Florida is a relatively transparent figure. While his war on critical race theory is not based on facts, he is open about what this means for educators and students. Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Time reported that DeSantis signed a bill “that will require public universities and colleges to survey students, faculty and staff on their beliefs and views to support” intellectual diversity. “
What happens after the investigation? The bill does not say so, but according to the Time, both DeSantis and the bill’s main sponsor have hinted that “budget cuts could be on the horizon” if they don’t care about the results of the investigation. âIt used to be that a college campus was a place where you would be exposed to a lot of different ideas,â DeSantis said. âUnfortunately, now the norm is that these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted and other points of view are rejected or even suppressed.
The public university is vulnerable to politicians like DeSantis. Budget cuts are a real and potentially devastating threat, and the governor’s statements offer little reason for optimism. DeSantis looks like a man who will see what he wants to see, whatever the reality. He has already concluded that public universities are factories of indoctrination, which provides all the justifications he needs to attack their funding. In doing so, he makes explicit a tendency that has always been present in panic in the face of critical race theory. The crusade adopted by DeSantis is hostile to freedom of expression.
The Florida poll bill comes with an inherent threat: If you make a speech the governor doesn’t like, sanction may follow. This is not unusual for the enemies of the so-called Critical Race Theory, who have set their sights on topics that fall outside of Critical Race Theory at all. They seek to eradicate precise history teaching, diversity training and anti-racist education from public schools. It is not only an attack on the academic quality or the diversity of public education; it is an attack on free speech, and it has become vicious.
DeSantis is not the only Republican considering or passing legislation to restrict the teaching of âdivisive mattersâ in public classrooms. It has become such a trend that the AAUP, PEN America, the American Historical Association, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities recently issued a joint statement in support of academic freedom. “First, these bills risk undermining the right of teachers to teach and students to learn,” the statement said. âThe clear goal of these efforts is to suppress the teaching and learning of the role of racism in US history.
âIn higher education, under widely endorsed principles of academic freedom, professors have the right to in-class freedom to discuss their subject. Educators, not politicians, should make decisions about teaching and learning.
Indeed, should is the key word. But DeSantis knows that money is a powerful bludgeon. With this, he can attack academic freedom and make his agenda the only viable one there is. While DeSantis is empowered to act in a certain way by the power of his office, it’s not hard to see a version of the same threat in wealthy Loudoun County, Va., Where a group of parents protested. in vitriol against the teaching of what they call criticism. race theory. Members of a local anti-racist Facebook group told NBC News they had been doxed and threatened. âSharing my address is really scary, but I think it also speaks to the larger issue of how it turns people against their neighbors,â said Jamie Neidig-Wheaton, Facebook group administrator. âIt’s about the political aspirations of the people and the creation of a wedge problem for the mid-terms. What I want is to bring that back to solving the real problem of racism in our schools. “
Critics of Neidig-Wheaton might point to his Facebook group as a source of conflict: members had begun to compile a list of local parents they perceived to be hostile to anti-racist educational initiatives; screenshots were then released to the public. From there, the dispute grew into something much bigger and potentially more dangerous. The Facebook group has become part of a local battle against CRT with parents – some with ties to Republican politics – to protest the idea of ââCRT in classrooms, although the district said that his schools did not actually teach the subject. Six members of the Democratic school board, several of whom were from the Facebook group, are facing a recall effort organized by a former spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. It is also an attack on freedom of expression and academia. When parents and educators fear teaching or expressing their opinions in public, freedom of expression is threatened.
At least DeSantis is an honest warrior. He’s open about what he believes and wants, and that means punishing speeches he doesn’t like.