University of Florida axes Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices; here's why - Hindustan Times

Unravelling the DEI controversies as Florida University axes Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices

ByShweta Kukreti
Mar 02, 2024 08:46 PM IST

The University of Florida has terminated 13 full-time diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) posts as well as 15 administrative faculty appointments.

The University of Florida has terminated 13 full-time diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) posts as well as 15 administrative faculty appointments. According to a memo issued on Friday, it also ditched the Chief Diversity Officer's post and terminated DEI collaborations with outside contractors.

Florida University has become the latest example of growing opposition to DEI programs.(Unspalshh)
Florida University has become the latest example of growing opposition to DEI programs.(Unspalshh)

The memo follows a 2023 Florida law that prohibits the institution from utilising state or federal cash on DEI activities. The Florida Board of Governors adopted the legislation in its full form on January 24.

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What is DEI?

As per the regulation, the statue 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."

Florida University has become the latest example of growing opposition to DEI programs, which have enraged prominent figures such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Also Read: Diversity, equity, inclusion are ‘propaganda words’, says world’s richest man Elon Musk

Here is what memo says

"To comply with the Florida Board of Governors' regulation 9.016 on prohibited expenditures, 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," provost J. Scott Angle and two vice presidents said in a memo.

The memo, however, promised 12 weeks of severance pay to staff "whose positions were eliminated."

"Under the direction of UF Human Resources, university employees whose positions were eliminated will receive UF’s standard twelve weeks of pay. These colleagues are allowed and encouraged to apply, between now and Friday, April 19, for expedited consideration for different positions currently posted with the university. UF HR will work to fast-track the interview process and provide an answer on all applications within the twelve-week window."

Hailing the decision, Ron DeSantis, a staunch critic of DEI, said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that DEI is toxic and has no place in public universities. "I'm glad that Florida was the first state to eliminate DEI and I hope more states follow suit," he added.

The approximately $5 million that was recently dedicated to DEI expenditures will now be used for faculty recruiting. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer will reallocate these funds.

The memo did not reveal what would happen to the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement, which got over $400,000 in the university's operating funds for 2022-2023, with the state funding accounting for 85%.

The Florida University maintained in the memo that “as we educate students by thoughtfully engaging a wide range of ideas and views, we will continue to foster a community of trust and respect for every member of the Gator Nation”.

Harvard controversy: Claudine Gay's resignation fuel critics of DEI

The resignation of Claudine Gay, Harvard University's first Black and shortest-serving president, acted as a watershed moment for opponents of DEI initiatives.

Gay's brief term as Harvard president was plagued by scandals as she testified on antisemitism before the House Education Committee. That testimony drew more scrutiny from the right wing, prompting claims of plagiarism in her scholarly writings.

Throughout her career, Gay discreetly constructed a "diversity" empire that touched every aspect of Harvard's life. As dean of the biggest institution on campus from 2018 to 2023, she oversaw the school's racially biased admissions practice, which the apex court ruled unconstitutional. Even after the court's decision, Gay described it as a "hard day" and defended the institution's practices, which were considered unfair against Asian and white applicants.

Also Read: Billionaires Elon Musk, Mark Cuban in online spat over diversity initiative in US companies

In the aftermath of Gay's resignation over her failure to address anti-Semitism on campus, Musk claimed DEI is “just another word for racism”, adding that “shame on anyone who uses it”.

Taking to his social media platform, the Tesla CEO on X echoed Harvard alum and billionaire contributor Bill Ackman's thoughts.

Ackman believes that DEI is not actually about diversity, but rather a political advocacy movement in favor of specific groups that are seen as oppressed under DEI's own approach.

In a post on X, Ackman speculated that Gay's engagement in Harvard diversity programs and "DEI ideology" may have helped her in becoming the "favored candidate" to become president. "It is one thing to give disadvantaged people the opportunities and resources so that they can help themselves. It is another to select a candidate for admission or for a leadership role when they are not qualified to serve in that role."

Gay's departure came after months of instability at the school, including bitter battles between Israeli and Palestinian supporters. She was accused of failing to safeguard Jewish students.

In her resignation letter, she did not offer an apology or accept any mistakes, claiming she was a victim of prejudice.

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