FAU spokesperson says new foreign legislation will not impact campus, faculty remain silent

On May 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law three bills that target “foreign countries of concern.” The bills are set to go into effect July 1.


Courtesy of Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis speaking on bills SB 258, 264, and 846 in May 2023.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story did not include a definition of the term “gift” used in the bill text; a definition has now been added. Additional information from the June 22 Florida Board of Governors Audit and Compliance committee meeting has also been added.

Tsung-I Dow came to America fleeing communism on a U.S. Merchant Marine ship in 1946. He persevered in the face of racial discrimination and ultimately became the first professor of Chinese history at FAU in 1967. Dow died in 2017 at 101 years old.

Stories like his would not be possible under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new legislation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three laws on May 8 that target China, Syria, Russia, Venezuela,  Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and other countries referred to as “foreign countries of concern” within the legislation. The three bills will go into effect on July 1.

The package includes SB 264, SB 846, and SB 258, all of which aim to combat the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which DeSantis’ administration has classified as a threat to the United States.

In the original news release, Gov. DeSantis called this package “Stop CCP Influence.”

SB 258, Prohibited Applications on Government-issued Devices, requires schools in Florida to block access to foreign-owned applications. This bill follows the release of DeSantis’ Digital Bill of Rights and HB 379, which resulted in the State University System of Florida ordering a ban on TikTok, WeChat, and QQ at the end of March.

SB 264: “Interests of Foreign Countries”

SB 264 has multiple parts. The first restricts any governmental entity from knowingly entering into a contract with a business from, owning, or operating in a country of concern. 

David Abraham, professor emeritus of law at the University of Miami (UM), said that it is not explicitly clear who is considered a person of concern or country of concern.

Official headshot of David Abraham. (Courtesy of University of Miami Communications)

“It’s totally not clear what a country of concern is. Neither is specified who is a person of concern. […] and Gov. DeSantis is going to decide what’s the country of concern? That’s ridiculous,” he said.

The bill will also forbid any person who is from one of those seven countries, who isn’t a citizen or a permanent resident of the U.S., from purchasing any agricultural land in Florida. It also does not allow these individuals to purchase or own any land within 10 miles of any military infrastructure. 

However, the legislation does not specify the exact visa denominations that will be banned from owning agricultural and real estate properties.

Notably, the bill also states that individuals who were born in China and are not US citizens will not be able to buy or own any land or building, commercial or otherwise, within the state.

Abraham feels strongly that there is not a real threat from the Chinese Communist Party in Florida. He said he highly doubts Chinese companies seek to purchase American land.

“In my view, [DeSantis is] not assessing a threat. He’s creating a threat so that he can be perceived as responding to it,” he said.

Bill authors Florida Sen. Bryan Avila and Sen. Jay Collins did not respond to multiple requests for comment. FAU economics professor Eric Chiang declined to comment.

SB 846: “Agreements of Educational Entities with Foreign Entities”

SB 846 restricts state universities and colleges that use state-appropriated funds from participating in any agreements with educational institutions based in foreign countries of concern. 

A state university or college cannot enter into a “partnership” with any other foreign educational institution, which includes any programs such as faculty or student exchange, study abroad, articulation, recruiting, or dual degree programs.

Florida Department of Education Press Secretary Cassie Palelis wrote that the bill will not impact students.

“There will be no impact from this bill on Florida colleges with large international student populations,” wrote Palelis in an email, adding that SB 846 will not impact individual students.

The bill also prohibits higher educational institutions from receiving gifts, a term defined as “a transfer of money or property without compensation” by the Florida Board of Governors, from foreign countries.

“They deliberately want to leave it open,” Abraham said, adding that DeSantis is giving himself and his commissions the power to choose whether an exchange scholarship or other “gifts” are permitted. “He gives himself a carte blanche to decide.”

While SB 846 lays out these restrictions, it also clarifies that the Florida Board of Governors may approve universities and colleges to enter into a partnership or agreement with a foreign educational entity only if they find it valuable to the safety and security of the U.S.

The Florida Board of Governors ran inspections on foreign influence on all universities under the State University System in fiscal year 2021-2022, according to Inspector General and Director of Compliance Julie Leftheris. The inspection results showed that FAU was involved in one percent of foreign agreements out of all universities in the state.

Of that one percent, there were eight total agreements, including four scholarships and four contracts with a total value of $1,184,344.

Students at various Florida universities have expressed their concerns about the bill due to its ambiguity.

“At Florida International University, “International” is our middle name. I’d like us to live up to that. Unfortunately, I worry that this legislation could get in the way. I see what the legislature was aiming to do, but this legislation may end up blocking ordinary international students and employees from getting the support they need from their families,” wrote FIU Student Body President Alexander Sutton in an email to the UP.

Sutton said his former roommate was an exchange student from China.

“If he had been a student employee and had been prevented from receiving financial support from his family, it would have been a sad irony for a school that prides itself on its international character,” said Sutton.

FAU Student Government President Dalia Calvillo and Vice President Bradley Swan did not respond to requests for comment.

There may also be more of an effect on public Florida colleges and universities than on private educational institutions.

Noah Frankel, chair of the What Matters to U initiative at UM, believes there will be a difference in the way SB 846 affects the institution as it is privately owned and operated.

He says that there may be governmental pressures when it comes to funding practices at private educational institutions such as UM.

“Whether or not […] U. Miami continues to kind of have agreements with universities in China or Russia, any of these countries; if the government continues to kind of maybe pressure them or threaten to like defund them at all – I don’t know if they would do that, but that’s definitely, I think the biggest in terms of like institutional crossover that might happen,” said Frankel.

Student Government representatives from multiple Florida universities including FAU, University of South Florida, and Florida Gulf Coast University declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

FAU does not have partnerships with the countries targeted by the new law, and therefore we are not affected by this new legislation,” wrote Associate Vice President of Media Relations and Public Affairs Joshua Glanzer in a statement.

FAU International Student Services, the FAU Asian Student Union, and multiple faculty members also declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Elisabeth Gaffney is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Elisabeth at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @elisabethgaff.

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella.