Sociologists for Women in Society Statement Against Florida HB 999

Official Statement by Sociologists for Women in Society Against Florida HB 999

As an international organization of feminist sociologists, Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) has been closely monitoring the recent spate of proposed bills and new laws across the country that threaten civil rights and free expression around race and gender. The political intent to reduce free expression and personal autonomy by criminalizing drag shows, gender-affirming medical care, full control of reproductive care, as well as stunting efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion across public and private entities is a matter of great concern for researchers who focus on gender and race among other inequalities. Yet, as feminist sociologists, Florida’s HB 999 is particularly chilling, not only to academic freedom, but to free expression and democracy more broadly. Proposed Bill HB 999, filed in the Florida House of Representatives on February 21, 2023, provides for significant opportunity for political intervention abridging free expression and academic freedom by students and faculty, especially around the issues of race and gender.

HB 999 places ultimate control for hiring and firing of faculty within political control of the Florida Governor’s office; it calls for the defunding of any activities on campus that attempt to increase diversity, equity or inclusion among the student body or the faculty and administration; and it explicitly intervenes in how curriculum can be organized.

We take issue with attempts to decrease racial and gender representation by defunding hard won initiatives to encourage full inclusion of all members of society. Yet this bill goes beyond simply defunding some offices. While hiring and discipline of faculty are typically a power explicitly held by the provost and faculty under a system of shared governance, this bill centralizes almost unchecked power in the Governor’s office and by the Governor’s appointees to university Boards of Trustees to control scholarship by controlling hiring of new faculty and the ability to call for impromptu “post-tenure review” of any faculty member “for cause”–an implicit threat of dismissal.

Further, (as of 3/24/23) this bill states that for each Board of Trustees “The board shall periodically review the mission of each constituent university and provide updates or revisions to such mission, as appropriate; upon completion of such review, examine existing academic programs at each constituent university for alignment with the university’s mission; and provide direction to each constituent university to remove from its programs any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory, including, but not limited to, Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or  Intersectionality, as defined in Board of Governors regulation, or any major or minor that includes a curriculum that promotes the concepts listed in s. 1000.05(4)(a).” It should be worrisome to any democratic endeavor that any set of ideas is explicitly targeted for “removal” and that only race and gender are targeted by this bill. Importantly, none of the other federally-protected statuses such as veteran status or disability are similarly targeted for removal of programs.

The most basic purpose of tenure is to shield faculty—who are vetted by a five- to six-year process of peer-review—from political intervention in the pursuit of knowledge. This bill undermines that ethic entirely while chilling free expression around race and gender specifically and constitutes an unprecedented political overreach of a university system. We condemn these efforts to stifle crucial scholarship and teaching on racial and gender experience, expression, and equality and reject in the most vociferous terms the implied and explicit attempt to chill free expression. This bill allows governing boards and political appointees unprecedented oversight in the everyday decisions of governance. Conservative forces and right-wing extremism continue to flourish across the United States, and Florida is leading the way in attacking academic freedom.

HB 999 is a direct attack on the principles that are at the heart of SWS’s mission: it perpetuates the structural inequalities grounded in the intersecting identities of which it seeks to ban instruction, and it attacks academic freedom that exposes these structural inequalities. SWS recognizes the extremely negative effects this bill would have on our members in Florida, as well as the horrible consequences of such blatant frontal attacks on education and academic freedom in general.

SWS acknowledges the importance of academic freedom:

  • Public and private universities provide students and faculty the freedom to conduct research, study, and teach without fear of government censorship. The sta
  • te, including but not limited to elected politicians, administrators, and political appointees, has no role in hiring, evaluation, or curriculum content. Tenure must be sheltered from politics.
  • Faculty make curriculum choices, hire faculty, and evaluate the performance of students and faculty.

SWS is working on ways to address this serious threat to academic freedom, and we welcome your ideas for ways that we can partner with you and hope that you will share this information with your networks in solidarity.

SWS Council on March 24, 2023

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