OPINION: House Bill 999 threatens academic freedom at public universities


If this bill is passed, universities may no longer be allowed to teach or endorse anything pertaining to race and diversity. ORACLE GRAPHIC/JEISLIAN QUILES

House Bill (H.B.) 999 was passed in the House on March 13. If passed in the Senate, the bill will allow the state of Florida to remove any major or minor pertaining to critical race theory (CRT) or diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The passing of this bill is a threat to university education and would set a precedent for further destructive bills to be passed against Florida’s education system. It should be rewritten entirely to emphasize post-tenure reviews but not prohibit exposure to DEI.

Along with removing classes related to these subjects, students would be barred from creating organizations in relation to or in support of any of those topics. 

The bill also prohibits universities from releasing statements committing to or against any viewpoints about “equity, inclusion, CRT rhetoric or political identity or ideology.” 

“In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country. Florida students will receive an education, not a political indoctrination,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in a March 13 roundtable discussion

For decades, it has been a standard viewpoint that students should attend college to broaden their horizons and be exposed to new ideologies. USF even states that one of the primary goals of the university is “to foster a diverse and inclusive community for learning and discovery,” according to its mission statement

If this bill gets passed into law, Florida will no longer be able to provide that to its public university students.

H.B. 999 turns public universities into an echochamber of confirmation biases by removing important opportunities to engage with a variety of different beliefs and opinions.

G’nique Stokes, a sophomore and criminology major, currently interns in the office of state representative Michele Rayner-Goolsby in Tallahassee. Part of her job is to answer calls from constituents.

“Of the dozens of calls about H.B. 999, they have all been in overwhelming opposition of the bill,” said Stokes in a March 29 interview with the Oracle. “It’s a bill designed to restrict the freedom that universities have in teaching topics pertaining to race, culture and identity.”

Charles Suor, a junior and president of the USF Trans+ Student Union, came to USF seeking to make friends with other trans people.

“Joining the Trans+ Student Union was a way for me to meet and connect with other trans people… now I fear for the future of that community and worry that other students who were like me won’t have that opportunity,” said Suor in a March 29 interview with the Oracle. 

Preventing the formation of student organizations like the Trans+ Student Union is just a way to make many minority groups feel further ostracized. 

Though there are few, there are some positive aspects to this bill. 

There is a subsection that would allow universities’ boards of governors to “adopt a regulation requiring each tenured state university faculty member to undergo a comprehensive post-tenure every 5 years and a post-tenure review at any time for cause.”

This would help hold professors accountable, even after they have been teaching for years, and it seems like a positive addition to the bill.

However, this section allows universities to choose whether or not to do post-tenure reviews. It does not require universities to do them, so no change is guaranteed to be made. 

For these reasons, the bill should be completely rewritten. Every section prohibiting classes that require critical thinking about race, gender and feminism should be taken out. Instead, more should be written guaranteeing students’ educational rights. 

H.B. 999 threatens academic freedom for students all over Florida, especially anyone who wants to be exposed to new ways of thinking that they may not have experienced in high school. This bill will likely lead to a new generation of college graduates who are worker bees and not free thinkers.