by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has taken the first steps in what seems set to be a decades-long political fight over the nature of America’s public universities. Among the host of major reforms that DeSantis proposed last week are a ban on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) programs, which he correctly characterizes as “an ideological filter” through which all students are pushed; a transfer of key hiring-and-firing powers away from faculty and toward university presidents and boards of trustees; more frequent reviews of tenured staff; the prioritization of STEM and business programs; and the mandatory teaching of Western civilization. “Academia, writ large, across the country,” DeSantis said at an event in Bradenton, Fla., “has really lost its way.”
As is their wont, critics of the move immediately charged that DeSantis was engaged in a “culture war,” alleged that Florida is at risk of “politicizing” its institutions of higher education, and even submitted that Republicans in the state are guilty of “government interference.” These charges are facially ridiculous. The universities to which DeSantis’s reforms would be applied are public. By charter, they are owned and run by the state, forcibly funded by taxpayers, and, by various means, subject to the democratic process. To complain that the governor and the state legislature are interfering with them is, in effect, to complain that the governor and the state legislature are interfering with the government that they run. If progressives so wish, they can offer up a case against the existence of public universities per se, but, absent such a case, they cannot have it both ways. As things stand, Florida’s public universities are accountable to the public and to the public’s elected representatives — and they will remain so even when that public chooses politicians of whom progressives happen to disapprove. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and, in Florida, the gander won the last gubernatorial election by 19 percentage points.