Florida educators wait for change after bill defunds diversity programs

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

The future of public education in Florida is in flux – whether you support or disagree with Gov. Ron DeSantis signing Senate Bill 266 – no one knows exactly how it will impact the higher education system. It could lead to massive turnover in the teaching ranks.

When Gov. DeSantis signed SB266, blocking state colleges and universities from using federal or state funding on diversity programs, it created many questions for the thousands inside the Florida system.

“Is it going to affect our curriculum? Is it going to affect our jobs,” Dr. Peter Ndiang’ui, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University asks. “Is it going to affect how we do things, how we treat each other?”

Dr. Ndiang’ui teaches courses in diversity and inclusion. He says he and his colleagues know their future is uncertain.

“You can feel the tension. You can feel the concern,” Ndiang’ui admits. “You can feel that people are worried about, what does it really mean?”

Ndiang’ui was asked to hand over any emails from his professional account that include the key words “diversity, equity and inclusion” back in January but hasn’t gotten any feedback since. He hasn’t been asked to change his curriculum but plans to abide by any required changes, if they come.

“We are waiting,” Ndiang’ui explains. “If we are told to do things differently, we work at a public university, we are required to follow the law.”

WINK News has reached out to the Governor’s office numerous times to try and get clarity on how the Florida higher ed system might change when SB 266 goes into effect July first. The office declined our most recent interview request.

Before signing the bill, Desantis explained why he feels major change is necessary.

“If you look at how this has actually been implemented across the country,” DeSantis said, moments before signing the bill. “DEI is better viewed as discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination, and that has no place in our public institutions.”

Dr. Ndiang’ui says that description does not match the experience his classes provide.

“We try to see our differences as empowering. We bring some synergy,” Ndiang’ui insists. “Every student in my classroom must feel they have a sense of belonging, no matter what their background is. You cannot tell me otherwise.”

Dr. Ndiang’ui isn’t just any professor. His home is lined with honors, awards and pictures with historical figures, like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. Just weeks before DeSantis signed the bill, Ndiang’ui received another award from FGCU, this one for the impact he’s had on his students.

“It was a very humbling award,” Ndiang’ui admits. “It is probably the greatest award an educator can get: you have been recognized for the success of your students. It’s about them, not about you.”

Even as a decorated professional, depending on how the new law is enforced, his career could get thrown for a loop. But Dr. Ndiang’ui remains hopeful.

“We must live with hope that ultimately justice will prevail,” he says. “We are all the same, and we must keep that going. And each one of us has a role to play.”

FGCU administration tells WINK News, they have not had any communication from Governor DeSantis’ office since SB 266 was signed.

We will continue to follow Dr. Ndiang’ui as the Florida education system deals with changes.

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