On January 4, the DeSantis administration took yet another step to crack down on the influence of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, as well as the influence of critical race theory in Florida colleges and universities.
The governor’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin, posted an image to Twitter of a newly-issued memorandum on Wednesday afternoon. It was authored by Chris Spencer, who serves as Director of the Office of Policy and Budget in the DeSantis administration.
“This letter is a request for information from the Department of Education and the State University System regarding the expenditure of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory within our state universities,” Spencer wrote in the memorandum to Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. and State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigue.
The colleges that are expected to comply with the directive by January 13 include universities such as Florida State, and any other institution of higher learning that receives state funding.
When asked for comment by the Capitolist, the Office of the Governor responded that the inquiry was part of a “fact-finding” mission, but declined to discuss how the collected information would be used by state authorities.
Many of the governor’s allies welcomed the move, including noted anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo, who said that Governor DeSantis would “lay siege to university ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ programs.”
Rufo spoke at a press conference of the governor’s in 2021, touting provisions of the “Stop W.O.K.E Act,” which was signed into law in April of 2022. It codified the Florida Department of Education’s ban on teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools.
However, the governor’s attempts to investigate the influence of “woke” programs in Florida’s universities has also been met with backlash, particularly from Democrats in state government.
Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat representing the 14th district in Florida’s House of Representatives, told her Twitter followers on Wednesday that “nothing is safe and it’s sickening,” in response to potential state action surrounding DEI programs.
Governor DeSantis made education a prominent theme in his inaugural address on January 3, claiming that policies pursued by liberal states have “harmed education by subordinating the interests of students and parents to partisan interest groups.” The governor has had a history of pushing back against teachers’ unions in K-12 schools, and recently teased new legislation that would allow Florida teachers to opt out of paying union dues.
However, the governor’s decision to investigate the prevalence of DEI programs and critical race theory in higher education could be a significant step towards rooting out these influences not just in K-12 public schools, but colleges and universities as well.
It isn’t entirely clear what DeSantis’ next steps will be in the wake of this memorandum. But the move seems to signal that, in the words of the governor, “Florida is where ‘woke’ goes to die.”