Drain the University of Florida’s DEI Swamp

January 24, 2023

Scott Yenor

Washington Fellow

This essay was originally published in Newsweek on 1/23/2023.

This week, 28 presidents of Florida public universities pledged to return their state’s higher education to a modest diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. They vowed to promote open access, not racial preferences. “Some initiatives and instruction in higher education,” such as those informed exclusively by critical race theory and related ideologies, squelch diversity of thought, they rightly claim. No one should be compelled to believe such doctrines. These presidents seek intellectual diversity on campus, so that voices aside from those indoctrinated by the radical nostrums of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) may be heard.

The university presidents’ statement, in actuality, is quite modest. The presidents vow to remove any “instruction, training, and policies” that advocate for reverse discrimination or discourage professionalism and civil debate. Nothing in the statement cuts to the core of decisively ending wokeness in higher education. There were no promises to even trim the number of DEI administrators. Neither are efforts to recalibrate curricula mentioned.

That such proverbial table scraps stir conservative hopes is a sign of desperation after decades of ineffectual reforms to higher education. For anything to actually change, a much bolder approach is needed.

Would-be education reformers must intuit that DEI cannot be halted simply with vapid appeals to free speech and civil discourse. DEI is an imperial ideology initiating a moral revolution in higher education. This may sound strident, but consider that DEI bureaucrats on university campuses always agitate for expanding their mandates. They weaponize anti-discrimination laws to intimidate dissenters. They seek to replace education in competence and knowledge of our history with an education in “equity” and anti-Western teachings.

Florida’s Board of Governors—which sets policy for its higher education system—can affirmatively roll back the system’s DEI administration, staff, and programming and insist on meaningful curricular changes. Those changes should start at the University of Florida (UF), which recently hired former Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) as its university president.

While tamer than Berkeley, UF is the wokest public university in Florida—and the state’s flagship. Twelve of UF’s 16 colleges have at least one dean-level DEI officer. UF’s colleges—especially its Levin College of Law and its School of Education—are imbued with race-conscious curricula, as is its “Quest” program for undergraduate general education.

UF President Sasse must first establish moral leadership on campus. This requires working on two tracks: dismantling the DEI regime and building a new regime in its place. Dismantling is necessary because DEI cannot peacefully coexist with legitimate education visions. Building means making UF the best public science and engineering university in the country, with a curriculum that instills an informed patriotism. Much talent could be picked up among the disgruntled and disappointed scientists from around the country, in order to foster an environment of scientific freedom and genuine achievement.

Here is how to dismantle:

  1. Abolish the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer at University of Florida. This office has four staff members who, combined, make more than half a million dollars. The office claims that is cultivates “multicultural skills”—whatever that means—but its goal, as always, is to build a larger network of administrators, faculty, and students committed to DEI inanity.
  2. Discontinue the Campus Diversity Liaisons program. DEI staff and devotees are embedded to promote the interests of DEI in a unit-specific way. Erica McCray is associate dean for DEI and community engagement in the College of Education. Patricia Xirau-Probert is the assistant dean for student advocacy and inclusion in the College of Dentistry. Such deans exist in the College of Business, Journalism and Communications, Law, Liberal Arts, Medicine, and so forth. Abolish all of these positions.
  3. Core Values. A new list of UF’s “Core Values” should be submitted, emphasizing disciplinary competence, genuine equal justice for all, the spirit of inquiry, scientific innovation, and America’s broader intellectual heritage. These “Core Values” will guide allocation of future university resources. No buzzwords like “inclusion,” “excellence,” or “civility” will make the list, since the Left has corrupted these words with the pernicious DEI ideology.
  4. Meritocracy Reports. Florida law (1012.86) requires colleges to submit Equity Reports. Instead, UF President Sasse should require that every department submit an annual meritocracy report, showing how the unit’s professional standards are meeting the university’s new Core Values and how each unit is meeting its broader professional standards. A presidential committee, selected by the president and accountable to him, will evaluate and rank departments and disciplines for their adherence to UF’s Core Values. Funding will then be discontinued to disciplines that do not, or cannot, reflect UF’s new Core Values.
  5. End Funding for Color-Conscious Programs. Grant programs for the development of courses on race, equity, social justice, and reconciliation should be ended—as should workshops on “institutional bias,” and the speaker series dedicated solely on the Black experience of racism and inequity. “RESPECT” teams for bias incidents should also be ended.

After the dismantling is done, here is then how to build:

  1. Double Down on Science. Start a building campaign to increase the size of UF’s scientific and engineering footprint. Use savings from abolishing DEI administration to attract the best scientific minds with higher pay and better working conditions. Recruiters should scour the country for like-minded academic leaders to head this initiative. Cleaning house at the College of Medicine may be necessary to maintain a world-class scientific program. The best non-woke minds should gather in Gainesville, Florida with the aim of making it what Berkeley was in the 1950s: the premier engine for America’s scientific progress.
  2. Revamp the Core. UF has adopted the “tools of learning” or “ways of knowing” approach to general education—one where many of its “Quest” courses are infused with DEI (121 of 175 “Quest” courses are labeled DEI courses). A return to traditional distribution requirements, where students take three science course, three humanities courses, and three social science courses, would be helpful. The Florida legislature should even dictate civics goals for the core, as in Texas—perhaps going as far as to write the actual syllabi for these courses. No Howard Zinn for American survey courses; instead, use Hillsdale’s Wilfred McClay.

UF’s newly announced Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education shows that Florida’s education leaders are aware of significant problems brewing in Gainesville. But the Center needs a congenial environment in order to thrive.

Changes in Florida law could help with the dismantling. Statutes that require universities to collect “equity” data on faculty and students should be repealed. Florida law already bans racial preferences in hiring and admissions, but somehow violations are never found. Administrators have therefore learned to conceal their chicanery. An aggressive enforcement mechanism should be added, allowing third parties to challenge policies, making discriminatory bureaucrats personally liable for their violations, and clarifying that there will be large monetary damages for universities that fail to comply.

The resounding victory for Florida Republicans in November’s election provides a unique opportunity. Woke will not merely go to die; it must be killed and replaced. Here’s hoping UF President Sasse and Florida’s Board of Governors—backed by Florida’s political institutions—undertake the tough work of recapturing UF from the DEI imperialists.