DeSantis defunds diversity programs at Florida public colleges

FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visits Jerusalem

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday banning tax dollars from being used in state colleges for diversity, equity and inclusion programs (DEI) in a sweeping measure that also places restrictions on classroom discussion of race.

While DEI programs are meant to assist in building racial, social and religious diversity among university faculty and students, the governor and other conservative critics have said they promote left-wing politics and sow racial divisions on campuses.

"DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination," DeSantis said at the bill signing on the campus of New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college, on Monday. "And that has no place in our public institutions."

The new law largely reflects a legislative program announced by DeSantis in January and represents another front in the Republican war against an agenda many conservatives believe those on the left are trying to push on U.S. public education.

DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential bid next month, has positioned himself as a leader in that fight.

The legislation restricts how gender and race are taught on campuses, requiring such lessons to be reviewed by the university trustees to prevent programs that "distort significant historical events" or teach "identity politics," the governor said.

Opponents of the legislation include many higher education experts and free speech advocates, who have characterized the efforts as an attack on academic freedom.

On the campus of New College of Florida in Sarasota, a traditionally liberal-leaning university where the governor has recently appointed a conservative-leaning board of trustees, the bill signing was greeted with loud chants from student protesters.

DeSantis said students who want to study diversity subjects should look at universities outside the state. "Florida's getting out of that game," he said.

(This story has been corrected to change timing of possible DeSantis announcement from 'later this month' to 'next month' in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)