The Florida Governor is blazing a path for other states to follow
The 88th Texas legislative session has begun and, if history is to be any guide, the Republican-controlled Congress is positioned to pass laws that will make progressive heads explode. When it comes to the culture war, however, the Lone Star State has lost its place at the vanguard of the American Right to Florida, which wasn’t even considered a red state until Ron DeSantis turned it into one.
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Nowhere is this more true than in education. The 87th session coincided with the outbreak of controversy over critical race theory in schools. Texas duly passed a law banning it, but only after Florida had already done so. Meanwhile, laws such as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act — designed to rein in CRT in schools and corporations — and the Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity through third grade, also came from Florida. So did the idea of conducting yearly surveys to identify political bias on campus.
In fact, as recent reporting from John Sailer of the National Association of Scholars shows, the ideological monoculture in Texas universities has only grown more entrenched since the last time the legislature gathered in Austin. Mandatory “diversity statements” are commonplace, even if all you want to do is teach the flute. Instruction in the catechisms of intersectionality is similarly widespread, while acolytes of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo lead the faithful in the study of their scriptures; the School of Information at UT Austin has called for mandatory training in “anti-racist pedagogy”.
All of this, meanwhile, has happened under the nose of boards whose every member was appointed by governor Greg Abbott. Texas Republicans, it seems, are remarkably laissez faire when it comes to what the taxpayer is funding in public universities. If they are not swayed by eloquent arguments from liberals such as Jonathan Haidt, who has stressed the importance of intellectual and political diversity to the health of the academy, you might think that the desire to perpetuate their own species would cause them to pay more attention.
Exactly how Republicans expect to produce conservative judges once everyone working in higher education has pledged obeisance to doctrines created by people who are actively hostile to them is a mystery. Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor, has signalled a desire to end tenure as a way to fight critical race theory, but it seems more likely that this could make life for the handful of remaining dissenters even more precarious.
The contrast with Florida is striking. DeSantis has already limited tenure and this month demanded that universities report their spending on DEI programmes, while appointing a majority of conservatives to the board of a hitherto very progressive New College of Florida. One of those conservatives was Chris Rufo, who recently unveiled pre-baked legislation for the abolition of DEI bureaucracies and “political coercion” that he developed with colleagues at the Manhattan Institute think tank.
It will be interesting to see if the Texas legislature reacts to some of DeSantis’s more aggressive stances on higher education, and how it responds to the possible introduction of an anti-woke liberal arts college in the state.
Sometimes it seems that a rivalry is opening up between the two states: first Abbott sent buses of migrants to sanctuary cities, then DeSantis upped the stakes and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard. The Florida governor proposed taking action against TikTok in September, but Abbott actually banned it from government devices in December.
But when it comes to the culture war Texas Republicans seem stuck in the ‘90s, focused on God, guns, abortion and free markets. DeSantis, however, is a 21st century man who appears to genuinely despise the ideas he rails against, and that gives him the edge.