A draft of Florida’s regulation determining how the state will enforce defunding diversity, equity and inclusion programs at its public institutions has tacked on a new ordinance that prohibits forms of social activism on campus.
Regulation 9.016 derives from Senate Bill 266, a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in May that prohibited state and federal being used toward DEI in the Florida College System. Subsection 3 of the regulation also bars state schools and their direct-support organizations from using public dollars on campus activities that “promote or engage in political or social activism.”
The regulation defines “political or social activism” as any activity organized to effect change in government policy. It also describes it as actions that attempt to achieve specific results related to social issues, a blanket term it defines as those that “polarize or divide society.”
The broad language of the regulation, like other recent policies written by Florida legislatures aimed at K12 and higher education, has sparked concern in faculty and other education leaders on how expansively it can be applied. Specifically, what kind of research or academic pursuits may be shunned due to the language of this regulation?
University of Florida Faculty Senate Chairperson Danaya Wright is curious whether university presidents’ responses to major worldwide events, such as the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, might be barred, reports The Tampa Bay Times. As the regulation currently stands, state universities cannot “endorse or promote a position in communications, advertisements, programs or campus activities.”
The regulation’s added ordinance barring speech on public or social activism comes weeks after the Hamas-Israel conflict has sparked incendiary student protests and backlash to university presidents’ official statements.
“It limits ways for students to be active members of society and speak their minds, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum,” said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule. The current draft does not extend its definition of “political or social activism” to school lobbying or in cases when following the state law would jeopardize federal funding or accreditation. Additionally, student organizations funded explicitly via student fees and without state and federal dollars are immunized.
Nevertheless, the ambiguity around what constitutes allowed speech may inhibit faculty from voicing their thoughts altogether, said Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), according to WUSF.
“I’m very concerned that this rule is going to make a bad situation worse,” she said. “And in creating a culture of censorship, impacting our competition on not just the students we recruit and the students that graduate, but of course, the faculty we hire, the research that we develop, the grants we can apply for. It has a ripple effect on the entire state university system.”
The regulation will become available for public comment for 14 days following approval by the Budget and Finance Committee and the Board of Governors. They each are set to convene Nov. 8 and 9, respectively.