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U of Florida lets go of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team

Flickr | Boston Public Library

The University of Florida terminated positions associated with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion following a state bill that prohibited public universities and colleges from spending government money on DEI. This decision has been met with criticism and concerns for diversity in higher education.

According to an announcement made on March 1, the terminations were made to comply with the Florida Board of Governor’s regulation 9.016 on prohibited expenditures. This involved eliminating 13 full-time positions, ending administrative appointments for 15 faculty members and closing the office of the chief diversity officer and halting DEI contracts with outside vendors.

In the same announcement, it was stated that the university “will continue to foster a community of trust and respect for every member.”

This regulation prohibits using government funds for DEI, which is defined as “any program, campus activity, or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2023, restricts the teaching and discussion of diversity. In reaction to the news of DEI staff’s termination, DeSantis wrote “Florida is where DEI goes to die…” on social media platform X, formally known as Twitter. Florida Senator Rick Scott has also praised the university’s President, Ben Sasse, and added that “every university should follow his lead.”

Prominent critics of DEI like DeSantis and Scott have claimed that DEI promotes discrimination against those who are left out in an attempt to promote representation of minority groups. They also claim that DEI pushes a left-wing agenda on race, gender and sexuality.

In reality, DEI and other diversity programs across the country increased inclusion and improved success for students of all backgrounds. Due to the gender and racial disparities in higher education, DEI aimed to increase the enrollment of underrepresented groups.

In addition, higher education is crucial for social mobility, meaning access to higher education gives economically disadvantaged groups a better chance at success.

Other aims of DEI have created support services for students, fostered an inclusive campus climate and recruited prospective students. These actions are helpful to underrepresented students as well as students who are not in underrepresented groups.

Based on data, DEI efforts have made progress yet still have a long way to go. The number of Black and Hispanic college students has risen by more than one million between 2008 and 2016. Yet between 2019 and 2021, undergraduate enrollment decreased for Black and Hispanic students.

DEI helped faculty and staff as well. Many faculty who are in underrepresented groups or come from other countries benefit from DEI.

In an open letter from the University of Florida chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, the chapter protested the termination.

“UF is also opening itself up to having to make restitutions for federal civil rights violations which could have otherwise been prevented through job training provided by DEI staff and programs,” the letter stated.

Other states have also followed in removing or restricting DEI. In Texas, a ban on DEI in public universities and colleges took effect Jan 1. In Utah, the governor signed a bill to prohibit DEI programs at educational institutions and government offices.

These decisions are detrimental to students and faculty in higher education. In addition, it will likely impact DEI efforts in workplaces as well, creating more barriers for people in underrepresented groups.

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