University of Florida ends diversity and equality efforts

Forced by DeSantis order, flagship fires officials but signals dissent and outlines plans to try hiring them back

March 4, 2024
University of Florida
Source: iStock

The University of Florida is formally eliminating its diversity operations, firing 13 full-time staff and ending administrative appointments for 15 faculty, as part of the state government’s rejection of efforts to promote racial equity.

The state’s flagship institution announced the move in compliance with an order issued last May by Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, that banned the use of state funding for initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s 12 public universities, approved a resolution implementing the order in late January. Other state universities have taken similar steps, and some Republican governors in other US states have mimicked the DeSantis order, part of a series of political moves around the US to reverse the idea that the nation should affirmatively repair the harm caused by centuries of physical and economic abuse of its racial minorities.

Yet the University of Florida – now led by Ben Sasse, a former Republican US senator who appears to be easing fears he’d bring a regressive social agenda – offered measures of both verbal and strategic pushback. In its written announcement of its decision to comply with the DeSantis mandate, the University of Florida said that it “is – and will always be – unwavering in our commitment to universal human dignity”.

“As we educate students by thoughtfully engaging a wide range of ideas and views, we will continue to foster a community of trust and respect for every member of the Gator Nation,” the university said. “The University of Florida is an elite institution because of our incredible faculty who are committed to teaching, discovering and serving.”

The university also promised the fired employees they would get 12 weeks of pay, invited them to apply for new jobs on the 60,000-student campus, and promised to “fast-track the interview process and provide an answer on all applications within the 12-week window”.

In addition, the university already has been adjusting to the impending requirement by changing the job descriptions of some of its employees with a DEI emphasis to give them titles that avoid a specific reference to DEI. The university also said it will use for faculty recruitment the $5 million (£4 million) previously spent on its DEI efforts.

The moment nevertheless raised protests against the DeSantis action both on the Gainesville campus and beyond it. “This decision strikes at the very heart of our values as a university and as students,” the incoming heads of the University of Florida’s student government say in an editorial in their campus newspaper.

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