Kate Blankenship and Jeremy Young: Florida is about to seriously damage its universities.
Florida is contemplating regulations that would go even further than the infamous STOP Woke Act, shutting down speech on college campuses. This op-ed from the Miami Herald explains the stakes.
SB 266 works on multiple fronts to suppress speech on campus and to undermine university governance that protects academic freedom. It restricts general education courses that discuss disfavored ideas regarding race, gender, identity and American history; bans diversity, equity and inclusion offices; threatens university accreditation agencies and even takes away universities’ right to control their own mission statements.
Once SB 266 became law, the BOG was charged with implementing regulations to put the bill into force. But the regulations the BOG have proposed go even further than the original bill. If approved, they would be the death knell for academic freedom in Florida.
SB 266 prohibits universities from funding any program or activity that promotes or engages in “political or social activism.” This vague phrase would be disastrous enough on campus, but the proposed regulation is even worse: it defines it, in part, as “any activity intended to achieve a desired result related to social issues.” What are “social issues?” According to the BOG, they are any “topics that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs.”
The breadth and vagueness of this definition is shocking, and would prohibit an immense array of action and speech. To make matters worse, university leaders may overapply the law to avoid the drastic measure of losing critical university funding. As written, the BOG regulations could be interpreted by campus leaders to ban on-campus programs, activities or discussions regarding such things as an environmental sciences dean celebrating a new environmentally sustainable building; faculty or perhaps even students discussing abortion, contraceptives, or family planning; a criminal justice professor applauding efforts to lower incarceration rates; or hospitality program faculty discussing the need to approach event planning with diverse individuals in mind.