USF students spring to action as lawmakers take up bill that could bring major changes

Students at USF are springing to action as the state considers legislation that could greatly overhaul the state's public universities.

 Legislators are set to begin considering HB 999, which is backed by the governor.

 Students held a protest in front of the student center on USF's campus on Tuesday.

"I am a political science major. I have to read tons of conservative stuff every day," said Liam O'Reilly, a USF junior. "I read that stuff to get better views and opinions on my own views."

Dozens gathered in the center of campus to criticize HB 999. The bill would end certain classes focused on race and gender and stop funding efforts to diversify student populations. 

"Today it's gender theory classes," said USF jr. Juan Ramos. "What's going to be tomorrow?"

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 Students also tried to lobby the USF board of trustees, who held public comment during their regular meeting today.

Some warned that the bill's intention to give the trustees the right to review professors' tenureship could make hiring political, and hurt faculty recruitment.

And will teachers teach where they don't feel they have freedom to do so?

"Today our classrooms are populated by people with very different experiences, and they need to be acknowledged," said one faculty member. "Students need to see themselves equally included in the learning experience."

The opponents of HB 999 face an uphill battle, given the legislature is controlled by Republicans who have signaled intent to cooperate with Governor DeSantis' policy prescriptions on higher education.

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He says Florida schools are filled with unhelpful interpretations of what diversity means, and that schools are teaching students a viewpoint.

Trustee Oscar Horton applauded the speakers at today's meeting.

"Silent is compliant," said Horton. "If we don't take the charge to speak up everywhere we can, this will not end well."

Chair Will Weatherford, a former Republican speaker of the House, urged students to continue speaking out, particularly to lawmakers directly. He did not signal where he stands on HB 999.

"Don't stop your comments here. Take them to the place where these decisions are made, and allow your voice to be heard."