Jan 31, 2023 - News

New College of Florida trustees replace president with DeSantis ally

Students during a Defend New College protest in Sarasota, Florida, US,

Students and alumni of New College of Florida protest before a meeting of the newly comprised board of trustees. Photo: Octavio Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The New College of Florida's overhauled board of trustees ousted the school's president on Tuesday night in their first swift move to reshape the liberal arts school into a more conservative college.

Driving the news: The board, with six newly seated conservatives, voted to appoint as interim president Richard Corcoran, a former Republican state House speaker and Florida education secretary. Corcoran is a close ally of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Yes, but: They could not muster the votes to rid the school of training that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed the new trustees, yesterday called for state colleges and universities to dismantle the programs.

What we're watching: The board voted to table the discussion until a meeting in February.

Why it matters: The public 700-student liberal arts school in Sarasota, which some refer to as "Barefoot U," is suddenly in the spotlight after DeSantis announced the shake-up to the college's 13-member governing board on Jan. 6.

  • For many students and faculty, the overhaul is becoming disruptive to their lives and education.
  • For DeSantis, the effort to transform one Florida college will be a test with political implications playing out under the national microscope.

Details: Hours into an emotional meeting, New College president Patricia Okker apologized to students for what she called a "hostile takeover" before the board voted to fire her and appoint Corcoran as interim president, starting in March. An administrator will serve as interim president until then.

  • The move was met with shouts of protest from New College students, faculty and alumni, who blasted what they see as an attack on educational freedom.

The other side: "This college is languishing. It needs to be revived," said new trustee Matthew Spalding, a former vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Between the lines: Several of the new trustees, including Spalding, are not from Florida nor are they residents of the state.

  • These include professors and right-leaning authors Charles Kesler and Mark Bauerlein and Christopher Rufo — an activist who has spoken out against critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
  • Rufo has promised to quickly revamp New College with a "top-down restructuring" and "a new core curriculum from scratch," he told the New York Times.
  • Another trustee, Eddie Speir, who founded a Bradenton school that teaches a biblical worldview, proposed ending faculty tenure, terminating all employee contracts and rehiring anyone who fits into the school's "new financial and business model."

What they're saying: Students and alumni of New College tell Axios they felt defeated after the meeting because the student body helped select Okker, but they were resolute in defending the college's four-person office overseeing the schools' DEI programs.

  • "Here we play chess," said Sam Sharf, a second-year student from Tampa, "not checkers."

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