Universities respond to DeSantis, saying they spend $35M on diversity programs

Florida’s 12 public universities plan to spend about $34.5 million on diversity initiatives and related efforts, according to records gathered at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget office.

The records were assembled in response to a late December request that all state colleges and universities tally what they spend on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and activities related to critical race theory. Since then, the governor has criticized universities for accommodating “trendy ideologies” and begun what some are calling an effort to “recapture” higher education from “woke” influence.

In addition to asking for diversity records, the DeSantis administration has restructured the board of trustees at New College, a progressive school in Sarasota, and is requiring the 12 universities to detail the treatment they have provided since 2018 for people seeking gender-affirming care.

The first batch of university responses shows that $20.7 million — or about 60 percent of what universities spend on diversity efforts — comes from the state, with the remainder from sources like the federal government.

A 35-page document details expenses ranging from a $63 graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students at Florida Gulf Coast University to a $4.1 million Upward Bound program at the University of South Florida for low-income, first-generation college students. State funds did not go toward either of those.

The University of South Florida spent the most of any school — a total of $8.7 million, with about $2.5 million coming from the state. Other expenses included the university’s supplier diversity program, which was touted for creating economic opportunities for minority-owned local businesses and trainings; a handful of general education courses; and funding for USF’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is in the process of hiring a chief diversity officer.

The university’s latest strategic plan, approved by its trustees and the state Board of Governors, adopted social justice as one of its main tenets.

Florida A&M University spent the highest amount of state funds: $4.1 million. The historically Black university in Tallahassee listed among its expenses a research center and museum for Black archives, a center for disability access and the Center for Environmental Equity and Justice, which was funded into existence by the Legislature in 1998.

The University of Florida spent a total of $5.3 million, of which $3.3 million came from state funds.

Florida State University spent $2.45 million, with $2.25 million coming from the state. Among the programs that received money: FSU’s Power of We civil discourse initiative; NCAA compliance training; and 35 courses, including Topics in Buddhism, Black Women in America and Classical Perspectives in Dance.

Florida International University spent $3.1 million, with $2.25 million from the state, and the University of Central Florida spent $4.47 million, including $2.3 million in state funds. Expenses at UCF included the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which issues a national race and gender report card.

The Department of Education has yet to release records on diversity efforts at the state’s 28 public colleges. But on Wednesday the department said all of the college presidents issued a joint statement that “rejects the progressivist higher education indoctrination agenda.”

Responding to requests by the Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College provided records of their spending on diversity initiatives.

St. Petersburg College spent $1.8 million, of which $217,413 came from the state. The majority of expenses were for an initiative funded by the Helios Foundation that supports Black male students, the most underrepresented demographic in higher education.

Hillsborough Community College spent $552,029, of which $40,555 came from the state. The college said it does not offer studies in critical race theory, adding that its student events and programs are all-inclusive.

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

(Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story contained incorrect information on the number of state colleges in Florida.)