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NEA News

The Latest Target in Florida's Culture Wars? Sociology

Two boards appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have taken aim at sociology courses in the state's public colleges and universities.
florida bans sociology
Published: January 24, 2024

The governor-appointed administrative bodies overseeing Florida’s institutions of higher education have found a new target in the culture wars they are waging on the state’s campuses— sociology departments.

On January 17, the Florida Board of Education (BOE), which governs the state’s 28 public colleges, unanimously approved a regulation that parallels one proposed by the board overseeing Florida’s 12 public universities. Both would limit and discourage Florida college students from taking sociology. At the BOE meeting, Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. said, “Students should be focused on learning the truth about our country instead of being radicalized by woke ideologies in the college classrooms.”

These regulations are devastating for sociology in Florida. Enrollments will plummet. The opportunity to recruit majors will almost disappear. Weakened sociology departments are ripe for elimination and, ultimately, faculty layoffs. 

The costs to society are higher still. Sociology students learn how to use empirical research and logic to assess the accuracy of claims made about the social world. They also gain skills to critique how power is distributed. In short, they are positioned to be engaged citizens, armed with the power to destabilize right-wing policy makers’ agendas—and this is the threat these regulations seek to neutralize.

Photo of FSU Professor Anne Barrett
Anne Barrett, Florida State University, Professor of Sociology

As a professor of sociology at Florida State University, I strongly encourage my Florida colleagues and students to vigilantly track higher education bills introduced in our state legislature. Florida Education Association's legislative session page and action alerts and United Faculty of Florida’s press releases make it easy. [NEA Higher Ed members, check out your own state affiliate websites and also the NEA Action Center for federal legislation.] Contact your elected representations and speak at committee hearing to prevent anti-public education bills from becoming law. When harmful legislation is passed, don’t give up: continue the fight at BOG and BOE meetings.  

This recent attack on sociology emerged in November, during a newly required review of Florida public colleges’ “core” courses. The aim of the review, led by statewide committees of faculty members, was to bring the core into alignment with a law, passed in 2023, that outlines new prohibitions and requirements for these courses.

The new law prohibits courses from “distort[ing] significant historical events” or including curricula that teaches “identity politics” or is “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.” Championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the new law also requires that courses, when possible, focus on Western civilization and U.S. historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

Faculty committees reviewed courses in five subject areas, including social sciences, where “Principles of Sociology” is listed. The committees recommended the addition of three courses and the removal of none. The added courses included two in the natural sciences— Introduction to Geology and Introduction to Oceanography—and one in the social sciences: an American history course. In addition to meeting the core requirement for social sciences, the new history course, “Introductory Survey to 1877,” will also meet a recently added requirement that Florida students take a civic literacy course.

After the faculty committees’ recommendations were presented to the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) on November 9, Diaz introduced an amendment to remove a singular course from the list: “Principles of Sociology.” The move was surprising, as Diaz formerly taught social sciences to high school students in South Florida. Diaz offered no explanation, but stated that three of the six courses that would meet the social science requirement would also meet the new civic literacy requirement. (A month later, Diaz did, however, offer a brief window into his reasoning when he asserted on X [formerly known as Twitter] that sociology had been “hijacked by left-wing activists.”) 

Within minutes of the amendment’s introduction, it was approved. Only three of the 17 board members voted in opposition, notably including the members with the most extensive and recent experience in the public education field—a retired school principal, an undergraduate student, and a faculty member. This week, o n Jan 24, they made it official, removing sociology as an option. 

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