Oct 3, 2023 - Education

New College of Florida picks DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran as new president

Two men in navy suits, one in front of a lectern emblazoned with the seal of Florida, speak in an airplane hangar.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on as former Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks at a news conference in 2021. Corcoran was appointed Tuesday as New College of Florida's new president. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The New College Board of Trustees on Tuesday chose former state lawmaker and education commissioner Richard Corcoran as the college's president.

Why it matters: The 10-2 vote to install Corcoran from a pool of three finalists further solidifies Gov. Ron DeSantis' control of the beleaguered liberal arts college in Sarasota.

  • Corcoran has served as interim president since the board ousted former president Patricia Okker in January, a few weeks after DeSantis appointed a slate of conservative trustees to the board in what many viewed as a hostile takeover.

Driving the news: Corcoran's political clout won him the job over two candidates with extensive academic backgrounds that Corcoran lacks.

  • "The reason that I would lean toward … Interim President Corcoran is because of the special circumstances here," board member Mark Bauerlein said during the meeting, "the external issues, the political issues, the contacts in Tallahassee."

The intrigue: The vote occurred despite an attempt by faculty trustee Amy Reid to table the issue after blasting the transparency and accessibility of the presidential search process. Reid and student body president Grace Keenan voted against Corcoran.

What they're saying: "He has failed to build any consensus on campus," Reid said ahead of the vote.

  • "It was very clear from the students that he was ranked last," Keenan said at the meeting.

Context: Tyler Fisher, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, was the top choice among students, Keenan said. The other finalist was Robert Gervasi, former interim president at the University of Mount Union in Ohio and the former president of Ohio Dominican University and Quincy University in Illinois.

Catch up fast: New College has been embroiled in controversy since DeSantis appointed the new board members in January with a mission to transform the institution into a conservative Christian college akin to Hillsdale College in Michigan.

  • More than 30 faculty members have left the college since the appointments in what one administrator said was a "ridiculously high" level of turnover.
  • Some students have also left the school since January amid accusations that administrators and board members created a hostile environment on campus for students, particularly LGBTQ+ students and students of color.

The latest: The controversy continued into this week, when two University of Florida business professors who reviewed the college's business plan warned that it isn't financially viable, the News Service of Florida reported.

Yes, and: A high-level former employee who said he was fired spoke out this week against Corcoran and the direction of the college.

  • Ryan Terry, the school's short-lived vice president of communications, told multiple media outlets that Corcoran was more concerned with stoking conflict with the media than restoring morale on campus. He did not return Axios' call and email seeking comment.
  • "When I was talking about unity on campus and saying we need to repair relationships in the organization with positive stories shared from campus, I was told, 'I don't care about unity on campus,'" Terry told Florida Politics.
  • "It really is an attack on academic freedom," he added in an interview with WFTS. "It feels like if you don't believe what the administration believes wholeheartedly and the administration's vision, if you differ in any way, then you're not welcome."

The other side: A spokesperson for New College confirmed to Axios that the college no longer employed Terry but declined to respond to Terry's comments in the media.

  • "An employee who did not work out during the first 60 days in their new role is not uncommon," spokesperson Nathan March said. "New College continues to make rapid progress toward restoring its stature among America's best liberal arts institutions."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show the New College board member is Mark Bauerlein, not David.


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