PROF. JENKINS: DeSantis makes Florida where DEI goes to d-i-e

Governor Ron DeSantis elicited howls of indignation from the woke Left when he recently demanded an accounting of university Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.

Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University - Perimeter College. In a career spanning more than three decades at five different institutions, he has served as a head men’s basketball coach, an athletic director, a department chair, and an academic dean, as well as a faculty member. Jenkins' opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis once again elicited howls of indignation from the woke Left when he recently demanded an accounting of the “DEI” (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programs at his state’s public colleges and universities.  

As Campus Reform’s Logan Dubil reported earlier this week, Florida’s Director of Budget and Policy, Chris Spencer, sent a memo to the state’s higher education leaders requiring them to provide information “regarding the expenditure of state resources on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

Among the specific data requested were the number of positions funded, the amount of money spent, and how much of that money came from public funds. The deadline for institutions to submit this information—ominously enough for DEI cultists—is this Friday, January 13.

This is exactly the right thing to do—essentially, auditing the state’s Marxist DEI regime—and DeSantis as governor has every right to do it. “Academic freedom” does not give state-supported institutions carte blanch to spend taxpayer money any way they choose.   

Indeed, those institutions and their leaders must be accountable to the people, which as a practical matter means their elected officials. This is hardly a threat to free speech, as some have claimed; it is merely necessary and proper oversight.  

According to the 2021 State Higher Education Funding Report, taxpayers in Florida fund the state’s institutions to the tune of $5.7 billion a year—approximately 80 percent of the system’s annual operating budget.   

Meanwhile, DEI programs are exploding around the country. A 2021 study by the Heritage Foundation found that, nationwide, colleges employ 3.4 DEI staff members for every 100 tenured faculty members—and at some institutions, that number can be much higher.  

Exactly what academia spends on DEI is harder to pin down, as scholar Martha Bradley-Dorsey of the University of Arkansas discovered when she set out to study the issue.  

“While nearly all responded to my ‘public-information law’ requests,” Bradley-Dorsey wrote in July of last year, “I learned that many state fiscal officials don’t maintain any detailed university budget information. They frequently keep only high-level university budget data.” 

A fair amount of anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that spending on DEI programs is significant.  

For example, National Review reported earlier this month that the University of Michigan budgets $18 million for that purpose. The University of California at Berkeley allocates $25 million and employs 400 people. 

So how much do Florida’s colleges and universities spend on DEI? No one knows for certain. That’s exactly the problem DeSantis is trying to address—or one of the problems, anyway. 

Whether those programs actually accomplish anything worthwhile—whether taxpayers are getting value for their money—is a separate question, one I intend to address in a subsequent column. (Spoiler alert: They’re not.)  

But at the very least, Floridians have a right to know where their hard-earned money is going. And once they know—well, they might not like it, which is exactly what leftists fear and the reason they’re howling so loudly.  

After all, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs are a hallmark of “woke” organizations, and according to Gov. DeSantis, “Florida is where woke goes to die.”  

Will the Sunshine State, then, be where DEI goes to d-i-e? Time will tell. The woke Left is deeply entrenched in our higher education system and has a powerful lobby.  

But my money is on DeSantis. 

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Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.