Monday, July 18, 2022

UF receives $3 million for new civics program with conservative links. (Gainesville Sun)

Some at UF evidently agree with the bon mot of my former boss, Government Accountability Project  Executive Director Rev. Louis Clark: "the only problem with tainted money is, 'tain't enough,"

From Gainesville Sun>

UF receives $3 million for new civics program with conservative links

Douglas Ray
The Gainesville Sun
Century Tower is still ringing at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville

The University of Florida has received $3 million in unrequested funding to establish a civics program backed by a shadowy organization linked to conservative views, but its new director says no outside groups will influence the curriculum.

State Sen. Keith Perry introduced a request to provide $2 million in non-recurring funding to create the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida, and an additional $1 million was added during the legislative process.

Perry made the request on behalf of the Council on Public University Reform, which is described in the request as a non-profit agency based in Alachua. But little is known about the group which doesn't appear to have a website or published telephone number.

Perry said he is not familiar with the shadowy council who pushed for the Hamilton Center.

Florida senator Keith Perry talks about a new sports complex during a beam signing ceremony in Gainesville, FL.

The funding for the program was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.

The request states 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."

Goals for the new program appear to align with Gov. Ron DeSantis' repeated argument that civics and history taught in public schools and universities improperly emphasizes racial inequities as fundamental characteristics of the United States.

However, in an interview with the Gainesville Sun on Friday, Perry said UF administrators will have a free hand to design the curriculum. "We're going to 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 historic facts and "fundamentals based on individual liberty."

"The goal is not to counter any other educational model," he added.

John F. Stinneford, a professor in the Levin College of Law at UF since 2009, has been named as the inaugural director of the Hamilton Center. Stinneford received his law degree from Harvard University where he also has a masters degree in English and American literature. 

At UF he is the Edward Rood Eminent Scholar Chair.

He is also a contributor to the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarian legal scholars who argue the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted strictly as it is written.

"Faculty of the Hamilton Center will develop an undergraduate curriculum under the supervision of the University of Florida's provost.  No outside group will participate in decisions about the development of university curricula," Stinneford said in a response by email as he was traveling Friday.

He said courses may be offered as soon as spring 2023, depending on faculty hiring.

"We believe it will enhance our efforts to produce alumni who are deeply educated in foundational texts (particularly those relating to the American founding) and the responsibilities of democratic citizenship," said Cynthia Roldán Hernández, UF interim director of strategic communications, in an email.

John Stinneford

Conservative links to Hamilton Center

Josh Holdenried is listed as the representative for the Council on Public University Reform, the requesting agency. Holdenried is executive director of Napa Legal, a Catholic-based organization dedicated to supporting faith-based non-profit agencies.

He previously worked with the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he focused on strategic partnerships and policy promotion. Currently, he is pursuing a master's degree from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college with ties to 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 the Tallahassee-based lobbying firm Ballard Partners and previously worked for DeSantis, first as deputy chief of staff and later as chief of staff. Efforts Friday to reach Lukis were also not successful.

Efforts to measure, restrict '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 Florida’s public colleges and universities to survey students and employees about "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" on their campuses. 

The United Faculty of Florida and other plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit last year, arguing the law violates First Amendment rights and could lead to the Republican-dominated Legislature punishing campuses because of political ideologies reflected in the surveys.

Another bill, the "Stop WOKE" law passed this year, could imperil 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. That also has prompted a lawsuit.

Graham Center and Hamilton Center

Civics education already is a significant focus of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at UF, which is "founded on the principle of preparing students for civic engagement, public service and public policy implementation," according to Matt Jacobs, its director.

Matt Jacobs

Jacobs said he does not expect the Hamilton Center to "raise a challenge to what the Graham Center does" but acknowledges there are "points we will need to navigate."

He noted that the Graham Center and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida partner in the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which has statutory authority advise the Legislature on civics curriculum for K-12 and higher education.

Jacobs said he expects the Hamilton Center will promote particular points of view that may not be partisan but emphasize a classical 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 any of our 50,000 students to feel they can belong here," he said.

"There will certainly be moments when we collaborate on things" with the Hamilton Center, Jacob said. "There are a lot of ways to do civic engagement work."

Stinneford said he agrees the two centers can work together.

"If we can't process and model it in a university setting, how can we expect our students to navigate it outside a university setting?" Jacobs said.

Director's vision for the Hamilton Center

Stinneford wrote a six-page outline for the new Hamilton Center that was delivered to UF President Kent Fuchs on June 14.

In it, he calls for a "renewed commitment to civil disagreement and debate in an intellectually diverse community of friends who will both support and challenge one another."

"This is not a partisan issue: The most powerful and articulate voices calling attention to this range from Jonathan Haidt and Cornel West to Robert P. George. The Hamilton Center can be part of the solution at UF," Stinneford wrote.

He outlined several activities the center will develop including a major course of undergraduate study, recruitment of tenured faculty, a series of "Hamilton Conversations" and debates that will be open to the university community, hosting visiting fellows, and training for K-12 teachers.

Stinneford said the Legislature authorized the Hamilton Center as an "academic unit" at UF with a "distinctive educational mission" that he says does not now exist in anydepartment or college. He compared it with the Latin American Studies Center.

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