Florida Board of Governors prohibits state funding toward DEI initiatives

DEI stands for "diversity, equity and inclusion" programs.

January 24, 2024, 5:21 PM

The Florida Board of Governors voted Wednesday to prohibit state funding to be used toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, including "political or social activism" activities on campus in a 15-2 vote.

The regulation prohibits state universities from using state or federal funds to promote, support or maintain any programs or campus activities that "advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion as defined in this regulation; or promote or engage in political or social activism as defined in this regulation."

The decision by the Florida Board of Governors, the 17-member governing body for the State University System of Florida, will affect all public universities in the state.

In this Oct. 17, 2017, file photo, the University of Florida campus entrance is shown in Gainesville, Fla.
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The vote is the latest decision to target DEI programming by the state. Last week, the Florida Board of Education approved regulations that limit public funding of programs, activities, and policies towards DEI initiatives in public colleges.

The ruling comes almost a year after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 266, prohibiting universities from expending any state or federal funds, regardless of source, to promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities.

The regulation provides guidance on what amounts to advocacy of DEI, state or federal funds; and will require institutions to designate an agent to ensure they are observing the prohibited expenditure provisions of the regulation.

DEI, as defined by the Boards' regulation, is "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."

The regulation 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."

PHOTO: Students reading book in class
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DEI are initiatives rooted in the 1960s anti-discrimination legislative movement that introduced laws to address labor issues based on protected classes. Some of these laws include the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. DEI initiative efforts aim to further create equitable workplaces and schools for underrepresented communities as defined by DEI professionals.

DeSantis has spearheaded numerous efforts affecting DEI and education around race in Florida. In 2021, DeSantis announced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act, a bill that would have restricted race-related curriculum in colleges and universities. The bill was blocked by a federal judge in November 2022.

However, months later, DeSantis requested data from state universities and colleges on courses and programs that include "diversity, equity and inclusion" and "critical race theory.

The fate of DeSantis' legislation will be decided on a bench trial set for October.