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New College of Florida Faculty and Students Challenge New Law

New College of Florida faculty and students are pushing back against a new state law banning instruction on certain topics in “general education core courses” at state schools, WUSF reported.New College Of FloridaAngelica Edwards/Tampa Bay Times

The law makes it so that core curriculum courses “may not distort significant historical events;” incorporate content with “identity politics;” violate a separate law restricting instruction of certain race-related topics; and include curricula “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.”

Violating the law would put schools at risk of not receiving performance-based funding, which can be tens of millions of dollars.

The pushback to the law – in the form of a legal challenge from several professors and students and the group NCF Freedom, Inc. – seeks to block higher education officials from enforcing parts of the law.

The plaintiffs’ arguments – that the policy was vague, encroaches on faculty speech rights, led to self-censorship, and would eliminate several course offerings – were heard Monday by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker.

Attorneys for New College trustees’ and the state university system’s Board of Governors argued that the plaintiffs lacked the legal basis to make such a challenge and was premature, given that regulations to carry out the law have not yet been made. Additionally, the policy is about school programs, not faculty speech, and does not restrict instruction in electives, the defense said.

“There’s no proscribed speech here,” said attorney Jason Gonzalez, who represented the system Board of Governors. The policy “doesn’t outlaw a single course,” he said.

However, the federal judge questioned the presented arguments, asking about potential ambiguity surrounding the policy.

“When does it stop being curriculum and when does it start regulating viewpoint, when you get into the nitty gritty about what you can talk about or can’t talk about, as it relates to specific issues in history, for example?” Walker asked.

He also asked about what ‘distorting the facts’ exactly entailed.

“It seems to me in this state and this country right now, we can't agree on some of the most basic issues related to history or political science. … This idea, to say you can’t distort, is it really that simple?” he asked.

Walker was also the judge who issued a preliminary injunction against the conservative 2022 law, “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act” (Stop WOKE Act), which restricted how race-related concepts can be taught in higher ed. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is slated to hear arguments in the state’s appeal of Walker’s order in January 2024.

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