Florida’s Governor Signs Bill to Defund DEI Initiatives at Colleges

Governor Ron DeSantis has signed Senate Bill (SB) 266, officially prohibiting the state’s public colleges and universities from spending state or federal money on programs or campus activities that advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).  The legislation aims to replace “niche subjects” like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender studies with “more employable majors,” according to the governor.  The law would also restrict public colleges from providing initiatives like anti-bias, DEI, and cultural competence training for educators, staff members, and students.

This measure follows closely from Florida’s 2022 Individual Freedoms Act,1 (commonly referred to as the “Stop-WOKE” Act), limiting the way topics like race and gender can be addressed in schools and workplaces.  Specifically, SB 266 prohibits programs, majors, minors, curricula, and general education core courses from referencing theories that “systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”  The law empowers university boards of trustees and presidents to review such programs for the presence of prohibited material and to use their findings to affect faculty employment.

A companion bill – House Bill (HB) 931 – bans Florida's colleges and universities from requiring students, faculty, or staff to sign statements in support of DEI in order to be admitted or hired. Both recent bills are part of a group of higher education reforms passed on Monday to curb so-called “woke” ideology and policies in schools and businesses throughout the state.

During Monday’s bill signing ceremony at New College of Florida in Sarasota, Gov. DeSantis called DEI a “relatively new concept” that gained traction “post-BLM rioting in 2020.” He suggested that the DEI acronym stands for “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination” and said, “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to [University of California] Berkeley.”

The laws will take effect on July 1, 2023.

We will continue to keep readers apprised of developments.

See Footnotes

1 A challenge to the Stop-WOKE Act is currently pending before the 11th Circuit of Appeals. See Nancy A. Johnson and Cindy-Ann L. Thomas, Can Even Stranger Things Still Happen? Florida is Blocked From Enforcing “Stop-WOKE” Law… For Now, Littler Insight (Aug. 22, 2022).

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.