Sep 18, 2023 - News

New College president Richard Corcoran faces skeptical public at Tampa luncheon

A man surrounded by reporters holding microphones and cameras. In the background, a red poster says "Tampa Tiger Bay Club."

New College interim president Richard Corcoran answers questions from reporters after a Tampa Tiger Bay Club luncheon. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

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 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.

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?"

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Tampa Bay stories

No stories could be found

Tampa Baypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more