SB 266 is officially law in the State of Florida, on Monday. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial bill into law, an expansion of the “Stop W.O.K.E. ACt” to curtail the teaching of “critical race theory” and funding of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives at public colleges and universities in the state. We first reported of the bill last summer as draft legislation uncovered by independent journalist Jason Garcia. A version of the bill (HB 299) was also introduced in the Florida House of Representatives, alarming higher education advocates around the nation due to vague language that could be interpreted as banning multicultural organizations such as the National Pan-Hellenic Council from state college & university campuses.
In a signing ceremony at New College of Florida, DeSantis championed the passage of the bill. “We are eliminating the DEI programs, we’re gonna treat people as individuals,” DeSantis stated, “In reality, what this concept of DEI has been is an attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university. And not even necessarily in the classroom, but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself,”
The higher education version of the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” prohibits Florida state colleges and universities from spending federal or state-allocated money on programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion” as well as spending on programs that “promote or engage in political or social activism.” The definition of “political or social activism” that is prohibited is left to be defined by the university system’s state Board of Governors. DeSantis, as governor, appoints 14 of the 17 members to that board. Along with mandating reporting certain research expenditures to the Board of Governors, the bill changes the way general courses are established, requiring the colleges and universities to seek approval for certain courses.
The law, set to take effect July 1st, faces significant legal challenges. An argument can be made that the law violates the first amendment, as it protects against government censorship. Critics of the law argue that prohibiting how professors teach and how schools allocate money infringes upon the first amendment rights of the professors. It also stifles academic freedom. The law also can affect the way that institutions are accredited by accreditation agencies such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. SACSCOC accredits many of the HBCUs in the southern region of the United States, including Florida A&M University which will be affected by the passage of SB 266. The bill could violate the standards by which the colleges in the system must abide as laid out by the accrediting agency. An institution losing accreditation has negative effects, including transfer credits not being taken at other accredited institutions as well as the inability to apply for federal financial aid at the unaccredited school.
We will continue to keep you updated on hbcupulse.com as well as HBCU Pulse Radio about the further effects of the passage of the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” as well as possible legal challenges.