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Hiring for higher education: DeSantis wants more scrutiny of university professors

CBS 12 News
CBS 12 News
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Keeping an Eye on Education, a bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted to introduce in Tallahassee would have imposed major changes in our state universities. Now, a leaked copy of that controversial bill — a draft — is making waves.

The governor has been very outspoken about college curriculum being too one-sided and he says professors should have more checks and balances.

The bill on that subject has been shelved. That means it's still a work in progress and none of this will happen anytime soon.

However, professors all over Florida are aware there could be changes in the wind: in their classroom, with job security.

And one of the biggest sticking points is who has the final say about which professors get hired.

The 72 page document — "An Act on Higher Education" — is ruffling feathers all over Florida's academic world.

Obtained and published by a website called "Seeking Rents," the new rules laid out in the proposed legislation are in lock-step with remarks Gov. DeSantis has made over the past year. He says universities are full of liberal bias and need to be reformed.

A part of the bill, "Powers and Duties relating to Personnel," would be a game-changer if it ever passes.

At the moment, university presidents decide which professors to welcome to the faculty but the governor wants hiring to be handled by university boards of trustees. Many of those boards have members who are DeSantis political appointees and allies.

"I think this a bad idea," said Robert Cassanello, president of the United Faculty of Florida at the University of Central Florida. "This is the worst kind of overreach."

Cassanello says the governor is trying to micromanage universities. He says if this bill was ever introduced — if it became law — the consequences would be dire.

"If this became law and I was a person who was asked to become a trustee, I'd say no," Cassanello said.

There are about 13,000 fulltime faculty members across Florida’s 11 public universities. The governor’s plans could affect all of them.

You may recall, back in April, the governor signed a law that means tenure will no longer be a sure thing.

As for the subjects being taught in the universities, the classroom discussions, the governor is vocally frustrated about that, too.

Back in April, a survey was sent to university students and faculty all over Florida to explore "intellectual freedom" and "viewpoint diversity."

The governor’s draft bill included a ban on Critical Race Theory and strong language about honoring American history, respecting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

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CBS12 News spoke with Jon Carter for some perspective on that. Carter graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 2020, and studied political science and government.

"It was challenging, being a conservative voice. If I was wearing my College Republican t-shirt, lots of people would give me a secret thumbs up and say 'love what you're doing' and I'd say, 'So join us' and they'd say 'no way, I can't, I don't want to fail my classes, I don't want to be ostracized by my friends,' and for people to feel that way is concerning in this day and age," Carter said.

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Gov. DeSantis' communications office did not reply to our request for comment on this story.

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