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When state demonizes educators, we're heading toward autocracy

In a comprehensive article perfectly headlined, "Whiplash," Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathryn Varn details how a Florida University System that just 2 1/2 years ago undertook an effort to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion programs for faculty and students at the state's universities is now reeling from Gov. Ron DeSantis' Jan. 31 announcement that he plans to take the system in the opposite direction. That he plans to dismantle the programs whose goals were "to examine the inequities of our society, recognize the conditions that have created those inequities, and work to repair the racial divide and restore equal justice for all."

For us, the heart of the longish article comes a little more than halfway through:

"The situation has grown so extreme that the American Association of University Professors took the rare step to form a committee to examine the state of academic freedom in Florida, said association President Irene Mulvey.

“'Anyone who cares about democracy should be really frightened,' Mulvey said, 'because DeSantis is demonizing educators and weaponizing education. Look to history: when the state is demonizing educators and education, we are heading toward autocracy'...

"The fact that DeSantis is attacking DEI efforts so soon after calls for racial justice fits into a larger pattern in America, said Matthew Kincaid, the CEO of the DEI training firm Overcoming Racism, which no longer has clients in Florida.

“'After every single moment of racial progress in this country, there is always a moment of significant racial backlash,' Kincaid said.

"DeSantis’ characterization of DEI efforts as 'trend' is particularly insulting, Kincaid said, when 'people of color have been calling out for racial justice on campuses for generations.'

"That includes in Florida, said Steve Uhlfelder, a former member of the Board of Governors from 2002 to 2004 and its previous iteration, the Board of Regents, from 1994 to 2000.

"Attracting a diverse faculty and student body was a focus back then, he said. But even before it was a priority of state leaders, students of color took the fight into their own hands.

"In 1971, when he was student body president at UF, a group of Black students protested outside the then-university president’s office to seek an appointment to talk about Black enrollment, which was abysmal at the time, Uhlfelder said.

"The president called the police and had them arrested, leading several Black students to disenroll from the university. The protest and fallout, Uhlfelder said, spurred the creation of an office of minority affairs.

"'It takes years to get where we’ve gotten,' Uhlfelder said. 'It takes days to destroy it.'"

It's time again to protest those who would take away "equal justice for all" in Florida. Before Gov. DeSantis corrupts and destroys Florida's outstanding university system.


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