Florida is Not “Where Higher Education Goes to Die” HB 999 is Not What PEN America Claims

PEN America recently tweeted the following, referencing the Florida Post Secondary Education Bill, HB 999. It said, HB 999, “is a bill that would really end academic freedom…not just in certain course areas, but at all times, on all campuses, everywhere. it…would make #Florida the place where public higher education goes to die.” At all times, on all campuses, everywhere? Anytime such a blanket statement is released, it requires further scrutiny. The first thing I did, was go directly to the bill. One of the mistakes people make with social media is believing whatever they read. Particularly if it validates their long-held beliefs or pre-conceived notions. They do it because they lack the time, believe the source, or simply are unable or unwilling to do the research themselves. After reading the bill, that statement is extremely exaggerated. HB 999 is 23 pages long and is not very riveting. It’s not supposed to be. The vast majority of Floridians and Americans will never read it. And yet they will comment, make assumptions, and give uninformed opinions about it, particularly if they dislike Ron DeSantis.

Allow me to excurse for a moment. Ron DeSantis served honorably, in the United States Navy, something that’s not often discussed in the media. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, The Navy and Marine Corp Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal. He deserves some level of respect for his service to this country. While that might not mean much to some people, it means a lot to my family, as both my father and brother served in the U.S. Navy. He’s referred to as a dictator and worse, which isn’t the case, but it’s the way some people relieve their anxiety and release their anger.

The tweet in question, clearly refers to this portion of the bill. “The board shall periodically review the mission of each constituent university and provide updates or revisions to such mission as needed; examine existing academic programs at each constituent university for alignment with the university’s mission.” It continues, “and provide direction to each constituent university on removing from its programs any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems.” Whether you agree or not with Critical Race Theory and Gender Studies, both are controversial subjects and not the standard by which education should be judged. I’m not even sure they rise to the level of course study, since I don’t have access to the syllabus.

Even if someone is triggered by the removal of CRT and Gender Studies, from the curriculum, does it really rise to the level of critical reasoning, that this is the death of education? I have read up on Critical Race Theory. I understand it and I can relate to where it comes from. African Americans have been treated horribly in this country historically. And there is every reason to be angry at the system that allowed slavery and more recently, forced children to attend different schools, people to drink from separate water fountains and use different bathrooms. It’s unfathomable, unacceptable, and should raise the ire of every American. I’m just not sure that something as derisive as CRT, solves the problem. And regardless of what anyone says, it is derisive. Gender studies is also controversial. It’s not a science and yet it’s presented as such. There’s a lot of pushback regarding this topic that will be addressed in the coming months and years.

Another controversial and frightening item to academicians’, is found beginning on line 171 that says, “The Board of Governors may adopt a regulation requiring each tenured state university member to undergo a comprehensive post-tenure review every 5 years.” It lists four items that must be addressed including, “accomplishments and productivity” and “performance metrics, evaluations and ratings.” This of course drives Professors crazy. The idea that they must live up to certain standards and expectations like the rest of us, after they’re tenured, is just horrifying. But term limits on politicians or eliminating lifetime appointments to the US Supreme Court, I’m sure would be fine. The argument that would be made is if they have to be evaluated every five years, it will stop them from doing unbiased research or writing on controversial topics, due to fear of repercussions, thereby deterring academic excellence.

If you stopped there, you might be inclined to say this is mean-spirited at worst. But there are many important provisions in this bill as well. For example, it establishes, “high quality, fully online baccalaureate degree programs that: accept full-time, first time-in-college students.” In addition, “for students classified as residents for tuition purposes, tuition for an online baccalaureate degree program shall be set at no more than 75 percent of the tuition rate…” The goal of public universities and colleges should be to offer exceptional, reasonably priced 2- and 4-year degrees, to whoever chooses that path, assuming they have the grades. HB 999 does not stop that from happening. If anything, it helps those who are unable to attend live classes, thereby making education more accessible.

Other provisions include guaranteeing electronic access to information about job availability and salary. Line 162, “The top 25 percent of degrees reported by the university in terms of highest full-time job placement and highest average annualized earnings in the year after earning the degree.” It also requires the bottom ten percent be available, using the same measures. This will aid students in understanding the likelihood of job placement and salaries when they graduate, allowing them to make informed decisions when choosing a major.

It requires a CORE curriculum so that students are exposed to a wide variety of subject matters. It does include the requirement that students learn about the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Is this requirement part of what PEN and the far-left find objectionable? Or is the restriction on Critical Race and Gender Studies a blow to their agenda? Every country on earth requires that students be well versed in civics. How can we expect our future leaders to lead, if they don’t understand how the system works. If the goal is to bring down the system, other than the American Revolution, EVERY Revolution is history has been an unmitigated disaster. If you don’t believe me, just ask Cubans, the Mensheviks, if you can find any, or the French for that matter. The French, inspired by our Revolution, thought they were following in our footsteps. Read about how that turned that out if you’re interested.

The real issue here is that there’s kind of a battle for the soul of this country taking place. There are people who want to surrender to the sins committed two and three-hundred years ago and that’s unfair. Our Founders were flawed, as are all men, but given that time in history, and the fact that they didn’t have the luxury of hindsight, we can’t demonize them as we should all racists, antisemites and anti-LGBTQ haters. They lived in the time in which they lived. They didn’t have crystal balls but bestowed upon us a living, breathing document that’s still the most important and ingenious charter in the history of humankind. Those men, as flawed as they were, were brilliant, and the fact that our Republic is the longest standing on earth, is a testament to that brilliance.

Nothing in HB 999 prohibits public colleges and universities in Florida, from teaching about the horrors of Slavery or the about the Civil Rights movement. Nothing!! There’s nothing that prohibits teaching about the Black Panthers or Malcom X and the Muslim Brotherhood. It does however stop highly controversial and highly questionable theories from being taught without serious academic scrutiny, except from one side of course. Expecting people, other than the most extreme leftists to accept that there is systemic racism, and this country should be ashamed, is too much to ask. If you believe that this country was founded on and continues to employ systemic racism, then you probably support CRT. If you believe that biological males should be allowed to share locker rooms and to compete against biological females, you probably support Gender Studies. Whether these are suitable for public academic institutions, is questionable. In the case of Florida, legislators determined that it isn’t suitable. But nothing else in that bill will prevent any student from receiving a proper and comprehensive educational experience. Where higher education goes to die? That is not supported by the facts which are clearly spelled out in the bill.

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