Eliminating DEI: A tale to two universities


Jim Croteau

Following Governor DeSantis and the Legislature banning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion funding at the state universities, two flagship schools had different approaches to the prohibition. The University of Florida fired 13 full time DEI staff and eliminated 15 administrative appointments. Florida State University fired no one and placed people in compliance and support positions related to student access and success.

Though the future of UF’s Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement seems uncertain, FSU will continue to support the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement. Despite the legislation prohibiting funding for recruitment and training related to DEI, FSU found that university support for military, Pell Grant, 1st generation college, 2 plus 2 and low income students and students with unique abilities is still permitted.

The issue appears to be a philosophical or political position of not wanting to give minority students an advantage in the higher education competitive arena, especially at the most prestigious schools. A look at some of the demographic data reflects this really is a non-issue as test scores, grades and soaring costs have kept the student bodies majority white in a state that is majority minority.

12th Grade enrollment in Florida public schools in 2023 was over 64% minority: 37% Hispanic, 36% white, 22% black, and 3% each mixed race and Asian. FSU student body last year was 55% white, 20.5% Hispanic, 8.5% Black, 4% mixed and 3.7% Asian (other and non residents make up the remaining percentages). UF was similar, 57% white, 21% Hispanic, 8% Asian, 6% Black (mixed, other and non residents the balance). FSU  Black/African American numbers have increased slightly over the last several years, UF numbers have remained the same since 2012 despite an 85% increase in the number of Black student applications.

The challenge remains for the top schools in Florida to find ways to have their student populations reflect the state. This doesn’t mean lowering standards but helping high school students meet them and get fair access. The recent Supreme Court decision on racial preferences fits with the Governor’s view. But they also said poverty, challenging life experiences and special needs can be considered. That sounds a bit like equity and inclusion to me.

The Supreme Court decision was based on a suit from Asian students who felt a cap on their enrollment at prestigious universities was discriminatory. FSU and UF may be facing the opposite problem. Both schools have student bodies that are close to 60% female. I am sure the next initiative from our mostly white male Legislature will be to reinstitute diversity, equity and inclusion to help more white males get in those schools.

Our state universities have a great reputation for academic excellence and research. In a state that is a majority minority, having leaders of all races prepared to take us into the future will be important to our economic, social and political success. It seems worth funding and supporting.

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