Don’t turn Florida universities into a “Berkeley,” Gov. Ron DeSantis warned state university leaders Thursday.
Making his first appearance before the panel that oversees the 12 state universities – the Florida Board of Governors – DeSantis said he is pleased by the growing academic reputation of the Florida system.
But the Republican governor also said he doesn’t want any of the Florida schools to become a hive of activism that has characterized universities in other states, such as the University of California at Berkeley. UC Berkeley students have had a long history in political activism, dating back to the Free Speech Movement and anti-Vietnam War activities during the 1960s.
“I would just caution you, you see some of these other universities around the country, some things that happen, like the culture in places like a Berkeley. I think that’s a bad way to go here. I think that we want to make sure we’re focused on achievement and academics,” DeSantis told the university board, which was meeting at Florida A&M University.
“I don’t care about activism. People can do that. But that should not be the university’s mission. The university’s mission should really be academic-focused and really promoting high achievement in an environment where people are exposed to competing views and are not just fed an orthodoxy,” said DeSantis, an Ivy League grad who holds a Harvard law degree.
“I think most people here agree with that. And I don’t think our universities have had some of the problems that you see. But I would just caution, the more you do that, go in that direction, I think the less we will be preparing students to succeed in society. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.
He asked university leaders to continue to focus on performance standards – such as measuring graduation rates – and other “accountability” measures.
But Florida leaders still may want to emulate UC Berkeley in other ways. The California school has a stronger academic reputation than any of the 12 Florida universities.
Florida officials were delighted last fall that the state system placed five schools in the top 100 list of public universities put out by U.S. News & World Report. The University of Florida was at No. 8 on the annual list.
But comfortably ahead of UF and the other Florida schools was UC Berkeley – ranked the No. 2 public university in the nation, just behind another California school, the University of California at Los Angeles.