TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A now weeks-running saga of challenges for and against a College Board pilot program teaching African American history has another player in the fight. The American Association of University Professors announced the creation of a special committee to research and report on academic freedom in Florida.
The announcement by AAUP came in the days after the College Board announced plans to release a revised version of its Advanced Placement AAS course, following rejection by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials.
Florida education officials invited the College Board to revise the course for compliance with Florida law. Democratic lawmakers and supporters in the state instead said they planned to sue the governor, depending on the outcome of the revisions. The noted intention to sue wasn’t the only political battle set up by the College Board’s announcement.
Following news of the coming revisions, Illinois’ Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker sent a letter, posted publicly on his social media, that said if the course is changed in response to DeSantis and Florida, the state of Illinois would reject it instead, teeing up an ideological fight over the course’s content.
Pritzker’s letter was accompanied by a statement on Twitter saying Illinois’ students “expect any AP course to include the facts — the honest and accurate history of our nation. Anything less is bound to lead to a repeat of the mistakes of the past, furthering the Florida Governor’s racist and homophobic agenda.”
AP content from the College Board is used across the country, regardless of individual state laws or regulations on curriculum. They’re also the organization that administers the SAT.
The Florida law at the center of the debate is 2022’s House Bill 7, the Stop WOKE Act, which banned teaching critical race theory in Florida schools. While the bill itself remains challenged in court, its provisions are already in effect in K-12 schools, while they remain paused on college and university campuses.
The College Board itself said that no individual state is able to make it change its courses in a letter to its organization members on Thursday.
“No states or districts have seen the official framework that will be released on February 1, much less provided feedback on it,” the letter said, according to reporting by Politico. “This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices.”
According to additional coverage by Education Week, the College Board’s letter also said the course will still explore the depth of African American history in the United States.
Education Week published a full copy of the letter to College Board members. Additional portions of the letter said that the program had been developed over several years, with input and feedback from hundreds of colleges and professors across the U.S.
“When we share the course framework next week, the public will see the extraordinary stories, artwork, documents, and debates at the heart of AP African American Studies,” the letter continued in part. It is a remarkable course that explores the richness and depth of African American history “and culture. We invite everyone to read the framework for themselves when it is released; it is a historic document that deserves your attention.”
For the AAUP, Florida’s recent educational and academic regulation decisions are a concern, and part of what the group called a pattern of behavior.
“In response to a barrage of hostile actions affecting academic freedom and faculty governance in Florida’s public higher education institutions, AAUP executive director Julie Schmid has appointed a special committee to review an apparent pattern of politically and racially motivated attacks on higher education in the state,” the group said in a statement.
AAUP cited a recent letter signed by Florida’s College System presidents that vowed to “identity and eliminate any academic requirement or program ‘that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality'” as well as recent requests by DeSantis for information about spending on diversity, equity, inclusion, and CRT, as just some of the causes for concern.
Additionally, DeSantis’ appointed of six “new right-wing governing board members” for New College of Florida in Sarasota, a school which openly declares its support of diversity and inclusion for those of “historically underrepresented identities.”
Even the early history of New College of Florida included, in its 1959 founding requirement, that the “college shall be open to all students qualified for its academic program. Race, creed, national origin, or cultural status shall not be considered as a basis for denial of admission.”
The AAUP special committee will be examining the state’s policies with the new trustees at New College, saying that the action was “reportedly aimed at purging the college of ‘left-wing radicals.'”
To fulfill their mission of investigating the “political interference” of state officials into Florida’s colleges and universities, the AAUP committee’s members will come from academic institutions outside of Florida. Those committee members will “review the available evidence; conduct interviews with university and state officials, faculty leaders; and others knowledgeable about the events, and prepare a report.”
Putting their concerns into a single line, AAUP said “in a democratic society, political restrictions on teaching and scholarship cannot be countenanced if institutions of higher learning are to contribute to the common good.”
WFLA.com has reached out to the governor’s office and Florida Dept. of Education for response to the committee announcement.