New College president Richard Corcoran faces skeptical public at Tampa luncheon
New College interim president Richard Corcoran addressed faculty turnover, student enrollment and his vision for the college during an at-times contentious luncheon Friday in Tampa.
Why it matters: The event, hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club professional organization, featured a rare back-and-forth between Corcoran and members of the public, some of whom were alumni and parents of students at the public liberal arts college in Sarasota.
How we got here: The New College Board of Governors hired Corcoran in January, three weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six conservative allies to the board in what the previous president called a "hostile takeover."
- The shake-up came amid a push by DeSantis to overhaul higher education that has included cuts to campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs and restrictions to faculty tenure.
The intrigue: While Corcoran on Friday was in lockstep with several of the governor's criticisms of the college, he broke with the DeSantis administration's vision for the school to become a "Hillsdale of the south." Hillsdale College is a conservative Christian college in Michigan.
- "You will never hear me say that," said Corcoran, answering a question from Hillsborough Urban League CEO Stanley Gray, who noted that Hillsdale has few students of color.
- Corcoran went on to tout this fall's record-breaking incoming class of 300 students, noting that it increased New College's share of Black and Hispanic students.
Between the lines: Nearly half of those new students are athletes joining the college's newly formed athletics program — a key part of Corcoran's plan to increase lagging enrollment.
- The college also lost students amid the takeover, with about two dozen transferring to a liberal arts school in Massachusetts. New College spokesperson Nathan March previously declined to tell Axios how many total students had transferred from Sarasota since the takeover on Jan. 6.
State of play: Corcoran, a former state education commissioner, dismissed concerns about what one college official said over the summer was a "ridiculously high" level of faculty turnover.
- A chunk of the 36 faculty members who left had planned to do so before the Board of Governors takeover, he said, answering a question regarding concerns about the future of Florida's university faculty base.
Yes, but: He didn't address the wider concerns about poor faculty morale, which came into sharp focus this month after a survey of 640 professors in the Sunshine State showed that nearly half were planning to find a job outside the state within a year.
Zoom in: During one of the more contentious moments of the luncheon, Corcoran lashed out at a member of the audience who asked about the culture of fear that has developed among students amid the changes.
- "People of color, LGBTQ people do not feel welcome. They are leaving the school in droves," said Kelly Benjamin, who is also a media and communications specialist for the American Association of University Professors.
- "100% of what you said is not based in fact," Corcoran said. "Can I get a real question please?"
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