Seven former presidents of public institutions in Florida published in an op-ed in The Tampa Bay Times Wednesday criticizing the legislative steps the state has taken to reshape higher education by dictating what faculty can teach, curtailing the power of accrediting bodies and banning diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
“These measures erode academic freedom, prohibit instructors from accurately conveying history to their students and, ultimately, limit students’ access to the full range of information and ideas they need to become engaged citizens,” they wrote.
The column was signed by Wilson G. Bradshaw, former president of Florida Gulf Coast University; John C. Cavanaugh, former president of the University of West Florida; Charles R. Dassance, former president of the College of Central Florida; Lars A. Hafner, former president of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; Michael V. Martin, former president of Florida Gulf Coast University; Eduardo Padrón, former president of Miami Dade College; and Dale Whittaker, former president of the University of Central Florida.
The op-ed notes that while Florida has a long history of censoring educational content, “the severity of these recent legislative attacks is unprecedented.”
“For the past six decades, Florida higher education has approached the reality of a changing state and country with honesty,” it reads. “It takes courage to be willing to understand the world we live in, and to navigate it with our eyes open. The cowardly approach is to prohibit what we fear. And such prohibitions inevitably fail … for two reasons: the curse of unintended consequences and because they are undone by the force of human curiosity.”
“Two likely unintended consequences we can reasonably predict,” it continues. “First, the ability to participate in debate and discussion in a future Florida Legislature or in the public arena cannot happen if people never learn about their history, their fellow citizens, and the world they live in. Second, prohibition of certain content could well place graduates from Florida’s educational systems at a competitive disadvantage in the global talent hiring pool.“
It ends with a call to action, emphasizing “the importance of protecting everyone’s fundamental right” to learn about ideas across the spectrum and urging Floridians “to make it clear to the Florida Legislature that … enough is enough.”