Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is moving full speed ahead with his attack on higher education as it now exists in the state. For starters, DeSantis (a Yale grad) doesn't think much of college in general:
In June, DeSantis lauded work experience over “a magic piece of paper which likely would have cost too much anyway” when he signed a law allowing state agencies to substitute work experience, including military experience, for college degrees in hiring.
“Give me somebody that served eight years in the Navy or the Marine Corps. That education is going to be much more beneficial and pertinent than someone that went $100,000 in debt to get a degree in zombie studies,” DeSantis said.
And so on. This comes after a law passed last year encouraging state universities to offer students jobs where they could earn money and acquire work experience that could be counted for course credit. De Santis also pushed another law requiring universities to survey their faculty and students about their political views, and to ask students if they feel able to express their opinions in class. The law doesn't specify any consequences, but DeSantis has repeatedly said that he plans to cut the funding of "socialism factories." A leak of internal papers showed that DeSantis also considered proposing that tenure be abolished in the Florida state system and all control over university hiring and firing be transfered to the central office in Tallahassee.
But its the "Stop WOKE Act" that has gotten the most attention. This law, which applies to any sort of training that anyone in Florida is required to take, either in school, to obtain a license, or as part of mandated corporate training, says that no such training may "espouse, promote, advance, inculcate, or compel" an individual to believe any of the following:
1. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.
2. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
3. An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her 59 race, color, sex, or national origin.
4. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin.
5. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.
6. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
7. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or er race, color, sex, or national origin.
8. Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.
Some of this is at least understandable. I find the notion that anyone now living bears any responsibilty for slavery to be absurd, and it irks me when activists complain that all talk of hard work is a cover for racism. (If you don't think that happens and matters, just have a look at the debate over selective high schools in New York.) But I would not under any circumstances support passing a law like this to defend my opinions.
The danger with this law, and all similar laws, is that a hostile judge could apply them to almost any statement about race, slavery, immigration, or a long list of other topics. Suppose I present data to a class showing that immigrants are more likely to found new companies than native born Americans, and a student complains that this made him feel bad about being native born. Am I in trouble? What if I point out that almost all the Africans traded to North America were actually enslaved by other Africans, and a black student says that made him feel bad about his race. Am I in trouble? What if I say that anxiety disorders are more common in women? Or that suicide is more common in men?
How could I possibly know in advance what statements will cause students to experience "discomfort"? And what is it with Republican populists obsessing over everyone's feelings? Forget balancing the budget, but we're going to fight like hell against anything that makes our voters feel bad.
As I have written here several times, it is hard to say anything about many historical topics that won't make somebody mad.
Vague laws are bad laws, because they allow the state to harass their enemies while ignoring whatever their friends are doing. Vague laws are bad laws because they leave us in fear as to whether we are following them or not. We should fight all of them, regardless of how that makes anyone feel.