Feb 13, 2023 - News

Christopher Rufo's anti-DEI crusade visits University of South Florida

Christopher Rufo enters a room

Conservative activist Christopher Rufo talks to faculty on the campus of the New College of Florida. Photo: Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The activist who's helped frame critical race theory as a threat for conservatives has a new target: the University of South Florida.

Driving the news: Christopher Rufo, 38, the Washington-based provocateur and close ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis, late last week took on USF's diversity, equity and inclusion programs on the website of City Journal, the magazine of the center-right Manhattan Institute, where he's a senior fellow.

  • "Taken as a whole, USF's DEI initiatives resemble practices of cult initiation," he wrote, accusing the school's "diversity bureaucracy" of implementing "an administrative policy of racial preferences and discrimination."

Why it matters: Rufo has the governor's ear. He has appeared alongside DeSantis at several anti-woke campaign events and was recently appointed to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees.

  • Rufo called on DeSantis to "not hesitate in demolishing these offices, terminating the employment of their commissars, and restoring the colorblind equality, individual merit, and scholarly excellence as the guiding principles of the academy."

The big picture: In December, the DeSantis administration requested that state colleges submit spending data and other information on programs related to DEI.

  • DeSantis announced in January, alongside Rufo, plans to block state colleges from having DEI programs, and critical race theory. The Legislature will take it up when it meets later this year.

Yes, but: Critics say the attack on DEI programs in Florida universities is a dog-whistle effort to politicize higher education as DeSantis mounts a presidential campaign.

Between the lines: Critical race theory is a graduate college-level framework that some Republicans have been using as a broad term for history or other lessons they view as denigrating races, casting blame or teaching that people are inherently oppressive or oppressed.

Zoom in: Rufo's argument is based on selective quotes from a variety of USF pamphlets, anti-racism statements and web pages that deal with racial and cultural awareness.

  • He says the documents show that USF indoctrination programming starts with condemning American society as structurally racist and moves on to racial reeducation.
  • The goal, he says, is turning students into left-wing political activists.

Reality check: The "trove" of documents Rufo references are elective materials and resources — like group counseling services and book recommendations for students interested in anti-racism — not mandatory classes or programs.

Flashback: Rufo also targeted Florida State University a week ago, saying the school was led by a "sprawling bureaucracy dedicated to promoting left-wing narratives," which FSU business professor Jack Fiorito called "exaggerated rubbish," per the Tallahassee Democrat.

What we're watching: Rufo's flare sets up a showdown with DeSantis-appointed chair of the State University System of Florida, USF alum Brian Lamb, who was global head of diversity, equity and inclusion for JPMorgan Chase and was named DEI Trailblazer in 2021 by Business Insider.

Disclosure: Ben Montgomery taught in USF's Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications in 2019.


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