The Supreme Court’s rejection of affirmative action in college admissions will provoke widespread debate. But not in the classrooms of Florida’s public colleges and universities, because the Stop WOKE Act prohibits it.
A pillar of Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign against alleged “woke indoctrination,” the Stop WOKE Act, signed in 2022, stipulates that students in Florida’s K-20 public education system cannot be subjected to instruction that “espouses” or “advances” eight blacklisted concepts.
One of these concepts is that “a person by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.” This provision disqualifies any material that is pro-affirmative action. How, then, will students at Florida’s state universities “contribute to the democratic process” and “function as engaged community citizens” (to quote the mission statement of the University of South Florida) if they can’t discuss the pros and cons of vital issues like this?
We just completed a year-long fellowship with the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, where we investigated the effects of the Stop WOKE Act and other laws targeting higher education in Florida. From our research, which included interviews with over a dozen faculty at Florida public universities, we learned how the Stop WOKE Act has trampled on academic freedom, significantly restricting the ability of teachers to deliver accurate, engaging, and effective classroom instruction.
That’s why we were happy to submit an amicus brief last Friday to support the plaintiffs—seven faculty members and a student group—seeking to strike down the Stop WOKE Act. The law is subject to a preliminary injunction, pending appeal from Florida. The federal appeals court for the Eleventh Circuit is expected to rule in the next six months.
The crux of our brief is that by compelling professors to commit educational malpractice, the Stop WOKE Act—its full title is Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act—undermines public higher education’s mission to develop students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them to be informed citizens.
“The Stop WOKE Act is an eerie combination of Orwell and Kafka,” University of Florida history professor Jeffrey Adler told us, adding that there are “mandates about what we’re not supposed to do and about what we’re not supposed to say,” but the specifics remain frustratingly amorphous.
Frank Fernandez, an assistant professor of higher education administration and policy at the University of Florida, said, “The law is vague, but the message is clear.” And the message is that faculty members should avoid topics related to race, racism, and social inequality.