Fascist state education policy trickling down to UF may be creating a brain drain, while Student Government mirrors draconian shifts in national politics
by Aron Ali-McClory, UF Young Democratic Socialists of America
It’s been around one year since autumn winds whisked Ben Sasse into the president’s office at UF, and yet, many of the uncertainties that loomed at the time still remain.
In the time since the Board of Trustees pushed him through with a unanimous vote, Florida higher education has weathered a blistering legislative session that gutted funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, criminalized the existence of transgender students by forcing them to use the wrong bathroom, and threatened the existence of public unions like Graduate Assistants United and the United Faculty of Florida.
There is no surprise to be had then, when many claim a “brain drain” is occurring at the University of Florida. There are not a lot of concrete numbers to be found on how many faculty and staff have left the university in the past year, but anecdotally there seems to be a lot of outward movement from UF. This comes especially as Sasse — touting his multi-million dollar McKinsey & Co. “strategic plan” — has waffled between cutting dozens of departments and not, while also floating raising tuition to drive up profits for UF.
Needless to say, Sasse has still been elusive towards the student body—appearing at select graduations earlier this year. He was also pictured carrying a mini fridge during UF move-in—something which was widely mocked by students on social media due to his absence elsewhere. His limited engagement on campus has only contributed to the perception that the shadow of the state government has only grown over the university- something causing discomfort among students and faculty alike.
Meanwhile, UF’s Student Government, which has all but independent control of $23 million in tuition dollars, has taken draconic actions which mirror many Republican states—including Florida—around the country.
SG Supreme Court upheld a district map for fall Senate elections put forward by Vision Party affiliates which engages in classic voter dilution tactics, and could arguably be considered racial gerrymandering. It’s worth noting that Vision Party is the newest reincarnation of the System- the long entrenched conservative political machine at UF that was previously known as Gator Party.
Additionally, student journalists such as the account @uf_politics on Instagram have uncovered potential ethical concerns around the ACCENT Speakers Bureau, particularly the ties between ACCENT, the Florida Blue Key society, and the talent agency that ACCENT largely works with, which was partially founded by and staffs many FBK members.
The conclusion to be made from both the concerning “brain drain” and SG updates is that UF is on the edge of darkness.
It’s no secret that collective action will be needed to combat the degradation of the university, but the community that has built up around it. Whether it’s building the strength of our public unions, fighting for academic freedom, and so much more, we must stand together to oppose both the incursion from Tallahassee and the rot that is spreading from the Gainesville campus itself.
This being said, hope is definitely not lost at UF, with regard to our academics, SG, or anything else. Groups like the Young Democratic Socialists of America on campus continue to combat the reactionary moves of administration with an open and proud socialist program, while leading the charge on fighting to protect and expand bodily autonomy.
Change Party, which is oppositional to the System, faces an uphill battle to defeat the System for a third time in SG elections, which take place on October 3 and 4. [Editors’ note: election is after the printing of this issue, results next month or see the Alligator.]
Change’s platform is notably progressive, including provisions to protect trans students, create a $17/hr minimum wage, expand student services, and fight against right-wing intervention from Tallahassee.
The changing winds here in Gainesville remind me of a lot of community trauma that we’ve experienced here at UF over the past year, but also reminds me of how strong we are when we build power and use it together.
We may be on the edge of darkness, but I can attest that the light in our community will never be extinguished.
Unfortunately the brain drain is not just a problem for Florida’s universities, but it’s K–12 public schools as well. For more on this, see Kali Holloway’s “Florida’s ‘War on Woke’ Is Spurring a Brain Drain” in the Nation (thenation.com/article/society/desantis-florida-education/). Judd Legum also touches on this in “Disney tickets, PS5s, and big-screen TVs: Florida parents exploit DeSantis’ school vouchers” for Popular Info (https://popular.info/p/disney-tickets-ps5s-and-big-screen), where he outlines how the state is spending billions of dollars on vouchers but can’t afford to fairly compensate or supply its teachers, leading to 8,000 teacher and 6,000 support staff vacancies across the state.