Florida eliminates sociology as core course at its universities

Students will no longer be allowed to take sociology to complete core course requirements, Florida’s state university system ruled Wednesday. Instead, the board approved a “factual history course” as a replacement.

The decision by the 17-member board of trustees came after fierce opposition from sociology professors in the university system, which includes the University of Florida and Florida State.

And it is the latest move by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to challenge the education establishment and what the governor has portrayed as its liberal orthodoxy. Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, had tried to leverage his educational credentials into his failed presidential campaign.

In a brief announcement Wednesday, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said he was proud of the board’s decision and looked forward to the history class and “the positive impact the addition of this course will have on our students and their future success.”

The Replacement History course covers “the founding of America, the horrors of slavery, the resulting Civil War, and the Reconstruction era.”

Florida has one of the largest public university systems in the country, with more than 430,000 students.

The move alarmed sociology professors, who believed it could lead to fewer students taking classes and majoring in the subject. The American Sociological Association said in a statement Wednesday that it was outraged by the decision and that it was made without any “evidence-based basis.”

“The decision does not appear to come from an informed perspective, but rather from a gross misunderstanding of sociology as an illegitimate discipline, driven by a ‘radical’ and ‘woke’ ideology,” the statement said. “Rather, sociology is the scientific study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior, which are at the heart of civic literacy and essential to a wide range of careers.”

In December, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said wrote on social media that “sociology has been hijacked by left-wing activists and no longer serves its intended purpose as a general knowledge course for students.”

He added that under Governor DeSantis, “Florida’s higher education system will focus on preparing students for high-demand, high-wage jobs, not woke ideology.”

Some professors have supported this move.

Jukka Savolainen, a professor of sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit, said in an interview opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal in December that the discipline was in trouble and had become “brutally political.” He called for the inclusion of more dissenting views in the teaching of sociology.

“I have been teaching sociology to students since 1996,” he wrote. “Over the decades I have seen my discipline change from a scientific study of social reality to an academic advocacy for left-wing causes.”

The Executive Board was appointed in November approved removing Principles of Sociology from a list of courses students can take to fulfill their general education requirement. The approval on Wednesday made that decision final after a period of public comment.

The course will cover topics such as race, gender and sexual orientation, which are topics that conservatives in Florida and other states are trying to restrict.

In 2022, Mr. DeSantis signed legislation that would restrict how racism and other aspects of history can be taught in schools and workplaces. The bill’s sponsors called it the Stop WOKE Act. Among other things, it bans instruction that could make students feel responsible or guilty about the past actions of other members of their race.

“The governor-appointed governing bodies that oversee Florida’s higher education institutions have found a new target in the culture wars they are waging on the state’s campuses,” Anne Barrett, a sociology professor at Florida State University, wrote in a opinion essay published Wednesday on the National Education Association website.

She wrote that eliminating the course would be “devastating to sociology in Florida,” adding that “enrollment will plummet. The ability to recruit majors will virtually disappear. Weakened sociology departments are ripe for elimination and, ultimately, layoffs.”

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