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The Sky Is Falling in Florida, but Only on DEI

March 8, 2024

The University of Florida’s dramatic housecleaning this past week has swept the institution clear of costly “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) staffers. But perhaps the real story is how unremarkable Florida’s actions are. Unremarkable, that is, in how little disruption the university faces in executing its core instructional mission as a result of those DEI staffers’ absence. Unremarkable in how smoothly the operations of a college campus can continue absent the drag of DEI. Unremarkable in how easily other states can—and now must—follow suit.

When the Goldwater and Manhattan Institutes partnered to release a blueprint to “abolish the DEI bureaucracy” in January 2023, no state had yet dared to truly do so, even as a growing body of evidence documented its outsized and toxic impacts on higher education throughout the nation. Now, in the span of less than a year, two of the three largest states in the nation—Texas and Florida—have taken on, and defeated, the DEI regime. Indeed, when Govs. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis each signed legislation in 2023 to dismantle the DEI offices of their respective states, DEI remained an ascendant force. Yet now, in the wake of their actions, DEI is on the defensive in states across the country, from Wisconsin to Iowa to Utah to Oklahoma,Arizona, and beyond.

While the political landscape—and possibilities—within each state of course differ, the trail blazed by Florida and Texas has made clear that submission to the discriminatory tenets of DEI is a choice, not a fate. While other states, including Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee, now battle to similarly rein in the regime of DEI within their state borders as well, the success of Lone Star and Sunshine State lawmakers has shown unequivocally that institutions of higher education need not tolerate the takeover of such ideological activism.

Indeed, warnings of lost accreditation, jeopardized athletic program eligibility, and more that once might have cowed lawmakers into submission increasingly fall flat in the face of evidence. And while the infusion of DEI into university academics continues to plague lawmakers sensitive to issues of academic freedom, legislation in states like Oklahoma has already proposed additional remedies—including the Goldwater Institute’s Freedom from Indoctrination Act model policy (co-sponsored with Speech First), which ensures that no student is required to take a course touching on DEI-related topics as a condition of any traditional major or general education graduation requirements. Importantly, such model policy recognizes that DEI is simply a label—one that is already being replaced in some cases with other similarly benign-sounding buzzwords such as “belonging.” Thus, the Freedom from Indoctrination Act addresses the substance, not merely the title of such efforts.

In the summer of 2020, states like Florida and leaders such as its governor were branded as bringers of death and destruction for casting aside the lockdown regime that was bearing down on millions of their students—only to be vindicated for their foresight. Now, once again, the “Free State of Florida” has helped demonstrate the possibility of a better path forward for educational reform nationwide. For that, those both in and outside the state have much to celebrate.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. 



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