Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Unveils Policies That Could Negatively Impact HBCUs

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Ron DeSantis speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24, 2022.
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For the past year, Florida’s education system has been news around the country. Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor & 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful, introduced the “Stop W.O.K.E Act” (W.O.K.E standing for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees”) in attempts to what he says will prevent, “Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.” Now DeSantis wants to extend the “Stop W.O.K.E” act to public universities in Florida. Florida A&M University is the only public HBCU in the state of Florida. This is a dangerous precedent that could be set.

Florida’s state legislature has already passed laws that’s made it harder for professors to maintain tenure, changed the way in which public universities in Florida partner with accreditation agencies and even threatened to pull funding from institutions that don’t teach about racism in American history the way that the government deems fit. Now, DeSantis wants to fight for more control of state funded universities. In draft legislation secured by independent journalist Jason Garcia, DeSantis wants to put more power over public universities in the hands of the his political appointees. He also wants politicians to control how colleges and universities are funded and even control what universities teach.

Under this legislation DeSantis would even be able to prevent university presidents from hiring professors, allowing the university Board of Trustees to control who is in the classrooms. It’s key to recognize that Florida Public Universities have their own Board Of Trustees (in which the SGA President usually serves as a member). However, these Boards are under the jurisdiction of a statewide board of governors where DeSantis appoints 14 of the 17 members. A snippet of the language in the draft legislation, per Jason Garcia, is below.

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The legislation also, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, will:

  • Give more authority to the Board of Governors to investigate university presidents
  • Veto proposed budgets
  • Fire employees
  • Limit the ability of the board to raise student fees, allowing state legislatures to control more of public university money flow
  • Allow DeSantis and his office to cut funding if they deem the public university isn’t following their outlined rules.

While this isn’t a personal affront at FAMU, this opens the door for attacks to be made on the essence of what HBCUs were built upon. At HBCUs, we always say that we learn about history in ways that we weren’t able to in the K-12 Public School System. This legislation could augment that, considering the true rendering of the history of black people in this country “Critical Race Theory”. This also is a harrowing precedent for other Rebublican led states with public HBCUs such as Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

This move by DeSantis is reminiscent of the effort of members of Georgia’s State Senate in 2019 to merge Fort Valley State University, Albany State University and Savannah State University to form the Georgia A&M University system. The move, which was also supported by Democrats in the State Senate such as Lester Jackson, would’ve put the proposed GAMU system in the power of the Governor who could appoint members to the board governing the HBCU system.  A story I uncovered from NPR in 2009 reported on a plan from then Governor Haley Barbour to merge Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State. 

Higher education should not be tampered with by the government. It allows for free thinking and respectful exchanges of thought. Legislation of this magnitude threatens the foundation of black intellectual freedom that HBCUs are built upon. This is why we must focus on what’s going on at local and state levels of government to protect our institutions and the future of our community.

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