Ron’s Higher Education Takeover

Later this evening, Governor Ron DeSantis will be speaking at a closed press political fundraiser for the Alachua County Republican Party outside Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. Before his speech, it is important to note that there is no greater danger to intellectual freedom and higher education in general than Ron DeSantis.

Throughout his time in office, the Governor has made it a point to denigrate and weaken Florida’s public higher education system, referring to college campuses as “socialism factories” and, despite holding two degrees from Ivy League universities, repeatedly making the same tired joke about students getting degrees in “zombie studies.” He has not stopped at just lampooning young Floridians trying to further their education though. Using his power as Governor, he has rewarded campaign donors with little or no experience in education with appointments to the Board of Governors of the State University System and to college and university Boards of Trustees throughout the state, where they have systematically carried out his anti-higher education agenda. Now, he has orchestrated the appointment of a political ally to be the new Chancellor of the Board of Governors in former State Senator Ray Rodrigues.

During his time in office, the Governor has signed legislation mandating an ideological survey of the state’s students and faculties, has sought to weaken tenure protections for faculty, attacked accreditors of colleges and universities, stifled speech around race and gender in college classrooms while underfunding a historically Black university, installed his anti-vaxx Surgeon General into a six-figure public salary at the University of Florida, tried to ban professors from testifying as expert witnesses in court, and has allowed searches for university and college presidents to now be conducted in secret, which has led to the potential hiring of Republican United States Senator Ben Sasse at the University of Florida.

That could be just the start, as records obtained by the Seeking Rents newsletter show that the Governor’s office drafted legislation last session that would have “centralized more power in boards run by the governor’s political appointees, made colleges and universities more dependent on money controlled by politicians in Tallahassee, and imposed more restrictions on what schools can teach.” This legislation is almost sure to come back if the Governor is reelected.

“No one has shown more disdain and utter disregard for the value of higher education than Ron DeSantis,” said DeSantis Watch Constituencies Director Natasha Sutherland. “This Governor has used his bully pulpit to continually attack the legitimacy of our institutions of higher learning, disparage students and faculty members who may disagree with him ideologically, and treated our state’s Board of Governors and Boards of Trustees as rubber stamp rewards factories for his high dollar donors. While Florida students and faculty are putting in the work to achieve their versions of the American Dream, Ron DeSantis only puts himself and what is best for him politically first while tearing down the ideals of academic and intellectual freedom for the people of our state.”