TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “war on wokeness” has entered new territory— Sarasota’s New College of Florida.
The public arts college will be on display when its board of trustees meets on Tuesday.
DeSantis recently replaced six of the board’s 13 members in what critics are calling a conservative takeover of the small, progressive college.
The governor’s office told 8 On Your Side the college has been putting ideology above education while its enrollment numbers decline and tuition fees rise.
“New College has fallen far short of its stated goal to reach 1,200 enrolled students, instead declining from 800+ students to approximately 660,” DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin said. “The new trustees at New College of Florida are committed to refocusing the institution on academics and truth and ensuring that students are receiving a quality education. The campus will become a place for learning and discourse, as it was designed to be.”
“It’s the bottom performing university according to the Board of Governor’s standards,” Christopher Rufo, a new conservative board member added. “We have tremendous opportunity here.”
Rufo helped spark the current debate on critical race theory and says he wants to abolish diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state schools.
“These DEI offices stifle expression, they stifle students on campus,” Rufo said.
In an online blog, Eddie Spier, another new board member, floated the idea of replacing the school’s president and firing all the faculty.
Tuesday’s meeting will be the first full board meeting with the new trustees. Last week, an informal meet and greet with the trustees was nearly canceled due to a reported death threat, but the show went on with more police on campus.
The New College of Florida has fewer than 700 students and no traditional grades. It’s a place where students like Jasmine Doyle can create their own majors.
“We have strides to make an Africana studies program and I have strong feelings that this will not persist if these changes go along,” Doyle said.
“I chose this school because I felt that I could truly be me,” student Amelia Miller said.
“This school is nothing short of a blessing,” parent Sonia Howman added. “A small bastion of safety in an increasingly hostile Florida.”
Students and parents who are critical of DeSantis, including LGBTQ students, worry the school will no longer be a safe space.
But Rufo says they plan to treat all students equally.
“The principle is very simple, you treat every individual as equal,” Rufo said. “People of all racial backgrounds, people of different sexual orientations, my promise is that you’re going to be treated with equal dignity, your individual rights will be protected and I look forward to working for you.”
For students like Dylan Hogan, it’s a waiting game.
“I just hope that the trustees’ words of making New College still a place for diverse ideology, is what the diverse ideology is today,” he said.
The board meeting will take place at 3 p.m. Tuesday.