The University of Florida received $3 million in unrequested funding to establish a civics program backed by a shadowy organization linked to conservative views.
State Senator Keith Perry submitted a $2 million one-time funding request to establish the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida, and an additional $1 million was added in the process. legislative.
Perry made the request on behalf of the Council on Public University Reform, which is described in the request as an Alachua-based nonprofit agency. But little is known about the group, which does not appear to have a published website or phone number.
Perry said he didn’t know of the shadowy board that lobbied for Hamilton’s center.
Funding for the program was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.
The application states that the new center “will provide students with an education in the ideas, traditions, and texts that form the foundations of Western civilization and the American republic.”
The goals of the new curriculum appear to align with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ repeated argument that the civics and history taught in public schools and universities unduly emphasize racial inequalities as core characteristics. the United States.
However, in an interview with the Gainesville Sun on Friday, Perry said UF administrators will have a free hand designing the program. “We’ll let the university work out the details on that,” the Republican lawmaker said.
His hope, he says, is that the center offers what he described as a “classical education”, based on historical facts and “fundamentals based on individual freedom”.
“The goal is not to counter another educational model,” he added.
John F. Stinneford, a professor at UF’s Levin College of Law since 2009, has been named the Hamilton Center’s first director. Stinneford received his law degree from Harvard University, where he also holds a master’s degree in English and American literature. At UF, he holds the Edward Rood Eminent Scholar.
He is also a contributor to the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarian jurists who argue that the US Constitution should be interpreted strictly as written.
“Hamilton Center faculty will develop an undergraduate program under the supervision of the provost of the University of Florida. No outside groups will be involved in decisions regarding the development of academic programs,” Stinneford said in an email response then. that he was traveling on Friday.
He said classes could be offered as early as spring 2023, depending on faculty hiring.
“We believe this will strengthen our efforts to produce alumni who are deeply educated in the foundational texts (especially those relating to the American foundation) and the responsibilities of democratic citizenship,” said Cynthia Roldán Hernández, acting director of communications. UF strategies, in an e-mail. .
Conservative ties to Hamilton Center
Josh Holdenried is listed as a representative of the Council on Public Universities Reform, the requesting body. Holdenried is executive director of Napa Legal, a Catholic organization dedicated to supporting faith-based nonprofits.
He previously worked with the curator Heritage Foundation, where he focused on strategic partnerships and policy advocacy. Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college with ties to the DeSantis administration.
Efforts to reach Holdenried on Friday were unsuccessful.
Perry met with Adrian Lukis, a lobbyist hired by the council to seek funding for the Hamilton Center. Lukis works with Tallahassee-based lobbying firm Ballard Partners and previously worked for DeSantis, first as deputy chief of staff and then as chief of staff. Friday’s efforts to reach Lukis were also unsuccessful.
Efforts to measure and limit “woke culture” on campuses
DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly expressed concern that public universities are hotbeds of “woke culture.” A law passed last year requires public colleges and universities in Florida to survey students and employees about “intellectual freedom and diversity of perspective” on their campuses.
The United College of Florida and other plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit last year, arguing that the law violates First Amendment rights and could lead the Republican-dominated legislature to punish campuses for political ideologies reflected in the surveys.
Another bill, the ‘Stop WOKE’ Act passed this year, could jeopardize up to $100 million in performance funding for UF if it fails to meet guidelines that restrict how race is discussed. in schools, colleges and workplaces. It also prompted a lawsuit.
Graham Center and Hamilton Center
Civic education is already an important focus of UF’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service, which is “founded on the principle of preparing students for civic engagement, public service, and public policy implementation “, according to Matt Jacobs, its director.
Jacobs said he doesn’t expect Hamilton Center to “take on the challenge of what the Graham Center is doing,” but recognizes there are “points that we will have to navigate.”
He noted that the Graham Center and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida are partnering with the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which has statutory authority to advise the Legislature on the kindergarten civics curriculum. to grade 12 and higher education.
Jacobs said he expects the Hamilton Center to promote particular viewpoints that may not be partisan, but emphasize a classic view of education. He said the Graham Center tries to provide space for diverse viewpoints.
“We may not be able to fit 50,000 students into Pugh Hall, but we want each of our 50,000 students to feel like they can belong here,” he said.
“There will definitely be times when we collaborate on things” with the Hamilton Center, Jacob said. “There are many ways to do civic engagement work.”
“If we can’t process it and model it in an academic setting, how can we expect our students to navigate it outside of an academic setting?” said Jacobs.