DeSantis’ latest proposals for higher education reform

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference this morning to discuss his proposed higher education reforms. His office also released a statement and brochure summarizing his proposals to combat “academic discrimination and indoctrination.”

For some of these proposals, details will matter – a lot. Still, naked the outline is significanteven if some of these items look better or much worse as they turn into politics.

DeSantis indicated that he would make several relevant budget recommendations to the Legislature. They include money for New College (which now has a new set of trustees with a governor’s mandate), new money for civic institutes inspired by James Madison’s program at Princeton, and $100 million for faculty retention and hiring.

Other proposals call for more reforms to Florida’s higher-ed law. They include

  • A new Western Civ requirement that may or may not include some legal intrusions into how such courses are taught
  • eliminate red tape and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Big deal, but it remains to be seen whether this will involve teacher-led programming or teaching
  • allow university presidents to initiate off-cycle faculty reviews. It remains to be seen whether this will change the process or content of the current post-mandate review system. If it only changes the weather, then maybe it’s not a big deal
  • allow presidents and boards of trustees to hire faculty without “faculty interference.” That would be a huge change in the way serious American universities operate. Huge big red warning flags on this one.
  • eliminate diversity statements for faculty recruitment. In line with what the Academic Freedom Alliance called universities.
  • require research universities to spend at least $50 million annually on STEM and business-related research.

It will undoubtedly shape Republican debates about the higher standards, even if the entire package doesn’t pass in Florida or is significantly altered en route to passage. Careful observation will be required.

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