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U. of Florida axes DEI office under GOP-led law aimed at ridding similar programs

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during a press conference at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District headquarters at Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Joe Burbank
/
AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during a press conference at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District headquarters at Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

The University of Florida is eliminating its chief diversity officer position, scrapping the program's staff jobs and halting any contracts involving the subject because of a new law passed last year that was pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The university in Gainesville, Florida, said in a memo released Friday that staff whose jobs were eliminated will get 12 weeks of pay and are encouraged to apply for other positions by April 19. The move axes 13 staff jobs and also removes administrative appointments to the diversity office for 15 faculty members, officials said.

Three senior UF officials said in the memo that despite the elimination of the diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI program, the school will continue what they called "our commitment to universal human dignity."

"As we educate students by thoughtfully engaging in 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 memo says, referencing school's reptilian mascot.

In addition, $5 million that had been earmarked for the DEI program will be diverted into a faculty recruitment fund. The University of Florida has more than 55,000 students, according to its website.

The legislation passed in 2023 and signed into law by DeSantis — as he prepared for his unsuccessful presidential run — was among several measures aimed at ending what he called "woke" policies in education, including critical race theory and DEI.

Rules on DEI adopted earlier by state education officials say state colleges and universities are banned "from using state or federal funds to administer programs that categorize individuals based on race or sex for the purpose of differential or preferential treatment." DEI supporters say such offices help ensure equality and representation for people of different races, gender and disabilities.

In a statement on the X social media site, DeSantis said "DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities. I'm glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI and I hope more states follow suit."

Democrats, however, see the effort as an out-of-touch attempt to tackle a non-existent problem.

"I am stunned but not surprised at the elimination of DEI staff at University of Florida, my alma mater," said Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson in an email. "The culture wars engaged in the Republican dominated Florida House of Representatives will continue until Floridians have had enough and develop the will and determination to flip the majority in the Florida House."

After Florida and Texas, more Republican-led legislatures around the country are pushing about 50 similar anti-DEI bills this year, according to a recent Associated Press analysis.

The new law eventually will impact all of Florida public colleges and universities that have DEI programs. New College of Florida in Sarasota, where DeSantis appointed a group of conservative trustees, last year voted to abolish its DEI office.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press