(NEW YORK)— PEN America has responded to reporting, that the Florida governor’s office requested on Dec. 28 that public colleges and universities inform the governor about state expenditures “on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory.” The higher education institutions were given until Jan. 13—just over two weeks—to provide a “comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities” that fit this definition. At least one institution, the University of North Florida, has interpreted the request as requiring data on all courses and instructors teaching these topics.

Jeremy C. Young, senior manager, free expression and education at PEN America, issued the following statement:

“The governor’s request looks more like a witch hunt than a serious effort to examine public expenditures. It’s one thing to engage in a systematic, deliberative review of higher education budgets; it’s entirely another for the government to interrogate faculty and universities about how a specific set of principles and intellectual frameworks are being advanced or taught on campus. The governor’s request contains no clear definitions of the terms about which it seeks information about which it seeks information, and colleges were given only two weeks to comply. That’s a recipe for chilling teaching and intimidating higher education administrators, not for improving students’ education.”

“One university has already interpreted this request as an obligation to report on the content of individual courses,” Young said. “Given that numerous state laws passed in the last year are having a profound chilling effect on public education, including a worrying rise in self-censorship among Florida faculty, such government-mandated reporting is at odds with the principles of open inquiry, academic freedom, and the free exchange of scholarly ideas that should be hallmarks of college education. This request appears likely to make the climate for education even worse than it already is.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057