Mar 8, 2023 - News

USF students, faculty defend diversity

Students make signs opposing HB999.

University of South Florida students with the group Stand for Freedom made signs outside the board of trustees meeting yesterday morning. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

The legislative session is just a day old, but students at the University of South Florida are already organizing to oppose HB 999 as an affront to academic freedom.

Context: The bill — swiftly opposed by groups like the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Historical Association and many more — follows Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lead in targeting higher-ed programs that espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion or critical race theory rhetoric.

Why it matters: The bill would ban academic programs in gender studies, critical race theory, and intersectionality, plus:

  • Give boards of trustees unprecedented power over tenure review;
  • Ban gen-ed 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.”

Driving the news: Students representing a variety of groups asked the USF board of trustees to act now to protect the school from any possible new restrictions.

The rub: Board chairman Will Weatherford, former speaker of the Florida House, said legislation always changes as the session drags on and encouraged students to reach out to their legislators and to keep protesting.

What they’re saying: “The debate is not here,” he said. “The debate is north of here, in Tallahassee.”

The bottom line: USF President Rhea Law made clear where the university stands:

  • “We are and remain always in support of academic freedom, civil discourse, free speech and the open exchange of ideas. And we are absolutely into fostering an inclusive environment for everyone here at the university and for having opportunities for everyone regardless of their background. We will not back down from that commitment.”

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