Thu 16 March 2023 12:02, UK

As Florida’s HB 999 bill raises alarms of a ‘culture war’ across the US, there have been concerns about what this could mean for the academic freedom of universities.

The HB 999 bill, titled Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions, is a pending bill in Florida‘s state legislature. If passes, it would only affect universities across the Sunshine State. However, there are some concerns about whether this proposal, led by Republicans Alex Andrade and Erin Grall, might influence other lawmakers across the United States.

With the HB 999 bill making headlines this March, here’s what you need to know about the legislative bill.

Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images

What is Florida State’s HB 999 bill?

The HB 999 bill was filed in the Florida House of Representatives on February 21, 2023. The proposed bill was filed by Republican Rep Andrade. A version, designated as SB 266 with the title Higher Education, was filed for Senate by Republican state senator Erin Grall. It will need to pass through Florida Senate before reaching Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk, who recently released a book.

HB 999 has two main proposed changes: bolstering the authority of University Boards of Trustees (UBOT) and blocking state or federal funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs or activities, unless required by federal law.

The effective date of the HB 999 bill is July 1, 2023, if passed. However, Section 11 (Buy One, Get One Free Tuition & Fee Waiver) will be effective upon the act becoming law.

HB 999 bill targets ‘critical race theory’ as well as gender studies

The first section of the proposed HB 999 bill has caused the most controversy. This is because it proposes limiting the academic freedom of universities regarding what they can teach.

It seeks to “provide direction” to Florida’s universities to “remove from its programs” any major or minor degree that uses methodology associated with the following: “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.”

HB 999 proposes to ban courses “based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content. Some critics have been asking if that would include the likes of evolution, gravity, theoretical physics, and current research.

Alarm bells are also ringing as the bill proposes limitations on the hiring of faculty. Section 3 reads that “a state university may not solicit pledges… or statements or commitments for or against certain viewpoints about diversity, equity, and inclusion, Critical Race Theory rhetoric, or political identity or ideology.”

Proposed bill would limit how state universities in Florida use their funds

The fourth section proposes the Florida Statutes be amended to alter the power of state university funding.

Institutions within Florida’s higher education systems “may not expend any state or federal funds to promote, support, or maintain” programs and campus activities that do the following:

  • Advocate for DEI, unless required by federal law
  • Promote or engage in political or social activism
  • Give preferential treatment or benefits to people based on their sex, religion, race, color, national origin, or disability