Ron DeSantis signed three bills into law today that tighten his control over higher education and restrict the curriculum to conform to his ideology. If a professor does not agree with DeSantis’ views on race, gender, culture, and history, he or she must change what they teach or find a job in another state.

There are two major contradictions in DeSantis’ approach:

1. He claims that state control over acceptable and intolerable views equates to “freedom.” If you share his views, you are free to teach them. If you don’t, your freedom is extinguished. Freedom for some is not freedom.

2. He claims that Florida intends to focus on “the classical mission of what a university is supposed to be.” But at the same time, he wants the state’s colleges and universities to become “number one for workforce education.” Is that the “classical mission” of universities? Those who know more about higher education than DeSantis would say that “the classical mission” of the university is to teach and deepen students’ knowledge of great literature, history, science, foreign languages, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. These are not workforce studies; they do not provide “employable” skills. They are probably what DeSantis sneers at as “zombie studies.”

The Miami Herald reports:

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law three controversial bills poised to bring major changes to Florida’s college and university systems.

In a ceremony at New College of Florida, he was flanked by a group of supporters including university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues and Christopher Rufo, an activist known for his opposition to critical race theory and one of six trustees DeSantis appointed to the New College board in January.

DeSantis signed a measure, SB 266, that restricts certain topics from being taught in general education courses, the lower-level classes that all students must take for their degrees. It also expands the hiring and firing powers of university boards and presidents, further limits tenure protections and prohibits spending related to diversity, equity and inclusion programs beyond what is required by accreditors.

Regarding the restricted topics, the measure borrows language from last year’s Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop Woke Act. It targets “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequities.”

While those ideas will be kept out of general education courses on Florida campuses, they will be allowed in higher-level or elective courses, subject to review by the Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, or the State Board of Education, which sets policy for state colleges.

DeSantis also signed HB 931, intended to prohibit “woke litmus tests” or required diversity statements, and SB 240, which supports workforce education.

Standing at the New College visitors’ center, behind a lectern with the label “Florida The Education State,” he referred to a group of protesters outside the building who grew louder as he spoke. The governor joked that he was disappointed with the size of the protest and was “hoping for more.”

He spoke of the state’s increased efforts to bring more regulation to higher education.

”It’s our view that, when the taxpayers are funding these institutions, that we as Floridians and we as taxpayers have every right to insist that they are following a mission that is consistent with the best interest of our people in our state,” said the governor, who is said to be preparing a run for president in 2024. “You don’t just get to take taxpayer dollars and do whatever the heck you want to do and think that that’s somehow OK.”

Referring to the Black Lives Matter movement, DeSantis called diversity, equity and inclusion a relatively new concept that took off “Post BLM rioting” in 2020 and “a veneer to impose an ideological agenda.” It’s better described as “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination,” the governor said to applause.

”We’re going to treat people as individuals and not as groups,” he said.

DeSantis said he hoped the state’s higher education system will move toward more “employable majors” and away from “niche subjects” like critical race theory.

”Florida’s getting out of that game,” he said. “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley,” he said, referring to the University of California, Berkeley. “For us with our tax dollars, we want to be focused on the classical mission of what a university is supposed to be.”

DeSantis said SB 266 will allow presidents to run their universities instead of “a cabal of faculty.” He said he would also allocate $30 million to the Hamilton Center, a civics institute at the University of Florida, where Ben Sasse, the school’s new president, would be able to recruit faculty to join.

The budget also allocates $8 million to the civics center at Florida State University, $5 million to another center at Florida International University and $100 million to recruit and retain faculty across the state system.

HB 931 also establishes an office of public policy events within each state university to organize events on campus representing a range of viewpoints.

”I think some of the universities around the country where orthodoxy has taken hold — a lot of these students can go through for years, get a degree and never have their assumptions challenged,” DeSantis said.

He said SB 240 will support Florida’s goal of becoming No. 1 for workforce education. The bill would expand apprenticeship programs and require districts to offer work-based learning to high school students.

He said he wanted to ensure that not all students feel pressured to go down the university path and end up in debt for a degree in “zombie studies,” a term he has used often.

Also joining DeSantis was Richard Corcoran, the interim president at New College who formerly served as the governor’s education commissioner. Corcoran spoke of the school’s transformation in the weeks since he arrived, saying he had recruited high quality faculty and planned to enroll a record incoming class this fall.

He called New College “the LeBron James” of higher education.

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