Ron DeSantis, public education and the authoritarian impulse

Ron DeSantis. Photo (cc) 2017 by Gage Skidmore.

Update: CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale reports that faculty and students would not be required to answer the survey, although colleges and universities will be required to administer it.

There isn’t a high-ranking elected official in the country today who embraces repression more than Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

DeSantis, a Republican who’s positioning himself to run for president in 2024 if Donald Trump doesn’t — or maybe even if he does — has a particular fixation on education, pushing through the state’s notorious “don’t say gay” law (which prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity) and, through his allies, banning three professors at the University of Florida from serving as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state involving its restrictive voting-rights law (he backed down).

The latest outrage is a bill DeSantis signed into law this week that requires public universities to conduct a survey in which faculty members and students would be required asked to reveal their political beliefs. As Ana Ceballos reports in the Tampa Bay Times, the measure is part of DeSantis’ ongoing war against leftist beliefs on campus, and that “budget cuts could be looming if universities and colleges are found to be ‘indoctrinating’ students.” She quotes DeSantis as saying:

It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.

Writing in Salon, Brett Bachman adds: “Based on the bill’s language, survey responses will not necessarily be anonymous — sparking worries among many professors and other university staff that they may be targeted, held back in their careers or even fired for their beliefs.”

Freedom of expression on college campuses has become a crusade on the right — yet it seems that the more grotesque examples of campus censorship come from the right, whether it be a campaign to delay tenure for the 1619 Project journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones at the University of North Carolina, to Trump’s threat in 2019 to cut federal funds to institutions that failed to protect free speech as defined by him, to DeSantis’ various outbursts.

DeSantis is one of the most dangerous politicians in the U.S. — a smarter, more disciplined Trump who might very well win the 2024 election, especially given the media’s desire to normalize him and get back to the business of covering politics like a sporting event. His attempts to silence the academy ought to serve as a signal as to what he’s really all about: the unsmiling face of authoritarianism.

One thought on “Ron DeSantis, public education and the authoritarian impulse

  1. Lex Alexander

    DeSantis is exactly what I said after Trump took office that we should be afraid of: Our next Republican president will be just as evil as Trump and a lot smarter.

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