Apr 4, 2023 - Politics

FIU students plan walkout against Florida bill targeting DEI programs

Students walk on a paved pathway through the campus of Florida International University.

Students walk through the campus at FIU in 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida International University students are planning a walkout to oppose legislation targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs and certain majors at state universities.

What's happening: Free FIU — a coalition of professors, faculty, and students — is organizing a "1,000 Panther Walkout" on April 13 to protest House Bill 999 and its counterpart Senate Bill 266, which are both advancing in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The coalition aims to get 1,000 people to walk out at the Miami campus.

  • They're calling on university president Kenneth Jessell and the Board of Trustees to refuse to discipline or fire any faculty and staff in fields of study affected by the legislation.

Why it matters: The bill would ban certain academic disciplines, including queer theory and critical race theory. Several majors and minors could be affected or abolished, and opponents worry it also threatens groups like multicultural student unions.

  • The legislation would also give political appointees power over professors.

Catch up quick: HB 999 would ban general education courses that teach "identity politics" or define American history "as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."

  • If passed, it would disallow expenditures toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which total $3.1 million at FIU and $34.5 million at all state universities combined, according to a House staff analysis.
  • It would give University Boards of Trustees powers over professors, effectively ending the protections of tenure.

The big picture: The bill is sparking pushback from students and educators beyond South Florida. Protestors have rallied against it in Boca Raton, Tallahassee and Tampa (where four were arrested).

  • The bill "would make Florida's colleges and universities into an arm of the DeSantis political operation," the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Coalition Against Censorship said in a joint statement.

The intrigue: The UF Foundation, the fundraising arm of the University of Florida, has hired lobbyists to work on the bill. A spokesperson didn't specify any further about the efforts, the university's independent student newspaper reports.

What they're saying: Jacob Alexander Chavarria, president of the FIU chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, has helped promote the walkout.

  • He told Axios that, "with the rise of Ron DeSantis," he's excited to see an alternative movement emerging against such policies. "I'm really excited about the idea that they can actually put up a fight," he said.

Katie Rainwater, an assistant teaching professor at FIU, told Axios that the proposed legislation would devalue a university education in Florida.

  • "DeSantis' policies are impacting the morale of educators at a time when there is a teacher shortage in public schools," she said via email. "At the university level, we see faculty seeking jobs out of state."

The FIU administration didn't respond to Axios' requests for comment.


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