The University of Central Florida has removed anti-racism statements from several academic department websites, prompting renewed concern by some that a new law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading to censorship at the university.
UCF’s decision to take down the statements came less than a week after the English department briefly “suspended” its version, claiming it now violated state law. The university later said department did so without “direction” from school leaders, who did not think the statements conflicted with any laws.
But university leaders apparently decided to wipe the statement from the English department’s web page this week. Similar statements also were removed from the web pages for at least a handful of other departments, including anthropology, philosophy and physics.
University spokesman Chad Binette said the school removed the statements because they “could be seen as potentially inconsistent with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment,” which he described as “one where faculty objectively engage students in robust, scholarly discussions that expand their knowledge and empower them to freely express their views and form their own perspectives.”
“UCF is committed to building a culture that values respect, civil discourse, and creating a sense of belonging. In an effort to more clearly communicate that commitment, we will be working with departments to ensure statements better align with our university values,” Binette wrote in an email.
Ann Gleig, an associate professor in UCF’s philosophy department, tweeted on Wednesday about the changes, writing that she wanted to “make people aware of the censorship happening in Florida public universities.”
“Now would be a great time for all those free speech warriors who made pleas for why it was important to have white nationalists like Richard Spencer speak at university campuses to write with equal zeal about the censorship of actual faculty at those university campuses,” she wrote.
Spencer, who has previously advocated for a establishing a white “ethno-state” in North America, spoke at the University of Florida in 2017 amid protests. After initially approving the event, the school tried to deny Spencer space to speak on campus, citing concerns about violence during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. After Spencer’s group suggested it would sue the university, UF agreed he could speak.
At UCF, some academic departments have added anti-racism statements to their websites during the past couple of years, some of them mentioning the of killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which sparked protests and a national racial reckoning in 2020.
The language used in the statements varied, but they generally acknowledged the effects of white supremacy and racism on academia and denounced discrimination.
“We acknowledge that many of us are born with unearned privilege, while others are denied basic human rights,” read the anthropology department’s antiracism statement, which was apparently removed within the past few days. “We decry this history, commit ourselves to rectifying it, and stand with those working to build an antiracist future for our nation.”
UCF’s English department attracted national attention on social media last week when it briefly suspended its anti-racism statement. A note in large, bolded text appeared last Thursday at the top of the statement on the department’s website.
“The following statement was enacted by the Department of English in 2021,” the note said. “As of July 1, 2022, the statement is suspended as it violates Florida law.”
The department decided to suspend the statement “without any direction from the university,” Binette wrote in an email last week, adding that the school didn’t think state law required the action.
The note on the English department’s website did not specify which state law it thought had been violated. But a new law, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act,” took effect July 1 banning instruction on critical race theory in Florida K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
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Critical race theory, historically a law or graduate school subject, says racism is embedded in the country’s institutions. The law also prohibits employers from integrating concepts associated with critical race theory in workplace training. Several businesses and UCF history professor Robert Cassanello are challenging the new law.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat and UCF alumni, in posts on social media Wednesday said the deletion of the anti-racism statements reflected how the DeSantis-backed law “created a toxic culture of censorship and fear around how public universities could promote diversity and inclusion.”
“That fear of retribution and state defunding now has … my alma mater, pulling anti-racism statements that may upset the regime,” he added.
The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, also is considering adding several prohibitions on campus instruction and training. The proposed rule forbids universities from teaching that “a person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed” is determined by race, color, national origin, or sex.
The rule would also prohibit schools from teaching that or that a person “bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.”
If the Board of Governors determines that a university violates the rule, it will be ineligible for performance-based funding, according to the proposal.