University of Florida eliminates all DEI positions due to new state rules

ByKiara Alfonseca ABCNews logo
Sunday, March 3, 2024

The University of Florida has eliminated all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) positions at the university, according to an administrative memo that was released Friday.

The memo cites a recent state ban on the use of public funds for diversity, equity and inclusion programs, activities and policies -- as well as activities for "political or social activism" -- in the public college system. The Florida Board of Governors passed this restriction in January, shortly after the Florida Board of Education passed a similar ban.

The University of Florida has closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, "eliminated DEI positions and administrative appointments, and halted DEI-focused contracts with outside vendors," the memo states.

The Board of Governors defines DEI 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."

DEI, as defined by DEI professionals, is aimed at correcting inequities within an organization -- this could include implementing accessibility measures for people with disabilities, correcting discriminatory hiring practices, addressing gender and racial pay inequities, anti-bias training, and more.

DEI practices have their roots in the anti-discrimination legislative movement of the 1960s of which the Civil Rights Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act were born, according to ABC News' past interviews with DEI professionals.

The Board of Governors restriction also defines political or social activism as "any activity organized with a purpose of effecting or preventing change to a government policy, action, or function, or any activity intended to achieve a desired result related to social issues, where the university endorses or promotes a position in communications, advertisements, programs, or campus activities."

The United Faculty of Florida union's president Andrew Gothard criticized DeSantis' anti-DEI legislation, calling it "censorship and exclusion" in an interview with local news outlet WLRN.

"This is all about silencing students," Gothard said. "It's about silencing faculty. It's about withholding funding from individuals who have beliefs, speak ideas, or take actions that would disagree with the politics of elected leaders."

Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. defended the new rules in a statement at the time.

"These actions today ensure that we will not spend taxpayers' money supporting DEI and radical indoctrination that promotes division in our society," Diaz said.

This move by the Board follows the decision by a judge to block the Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed "Stop WOKE" Act that restricted race-related curriculum in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

The judge temporarily blocked the bill from impacting higher education institutions, arguing that the First Amendment protects speech in the classroom and that the law's vague restrictions are unenforceable.

The memo stated university employees who were eliminated will receive UF's "standard twelve weeks of pay" and "are allowed and encouraged to apply, between now and Friday, April 19, for expedited consideration for different positions currently posted with the university."

The memo states that approximately $5 million in funds will be reallocated into a faculty recruitment fund.

DeSantis applauded the decision, saying on X: "DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities. I'm glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI and I hope more states follow suit."

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, called the decision "out of step" and blasted DeSantis for saying DEI was toxic.

The CBC also said these decisions have impacted both higher education and the corporate sector since the gutting of Affirmative Action by the Supreme Court last year.

Back in January, when the Florida Board of Education first prohibited DEI in its college system, Rep. Byron Donalds told ABC News diversity and inclusion mattered on college campuses but he takes issue with the "equity" component of DEI.

"The equity piece is problematic," Rep. Donalds, a Florida Republican, told ABC News.

"When you add the equity lens to it, that has always created disjointed outcomes and disjointed issues between student body members and is a distraction for colleges and universities. They should be focused on higher level skill - higher level learning. That needs to be the number one focus of our universities," Donalds added.

National Association of Diversity in Higher Education (NADOHE) President and CEO Paulette Granbury Russell told ABC News in a statement Saturday that students "will suffer" from the dismantling of and loss of jobs within the DEI department at the University of Florida.

"Let's be clear: Legislation barring efforts to support students based on race, gender, color, national origin, and sexuality is arcane and intended to further marginalize groups that have historically been marginalized in this country," Granbury Russell said in the statement, adding, "NADOHE will continue to speak out forcefully against these attacks and in defense of its members, as it has since this recent wave of activism first infested our campuses."

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding a hearing on DEI next Thursday.

ABC News' Davi Merchan and Arthur Jones II contributed to this report.

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