TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — The New College of Florida is a public liberal arts college in Sarasota. It has about 700 students. Now it’s the center of a political fight in Florida, and national, politics.
On Jan. 6, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a set of new, conservative board of trustee members, some alumni from New College are weighing in with their thoughts on the changes that could come. The six new trustees named by DeSantis are Christopher Rufo, Matthew Spalding, Charles R. Kesler, Mark Bauerlein, Debra Jenks, and Jason “Eddie” Speir.
Most controversial of the six appointees is conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who said in a Tweet that a goal of the trustees’ work would be to “recapture higher education.”
He also included an agenda for changes at New College. He said the same day that the state would be recruiting “new faculty in the coming months and will create an institution where academics can thrive, without self-censorship.”
The goals for “transforming New College of Florida” were:
- Shift the unviersity to a classical liberal arts model
- Restructure the administration and mission statement
- Create a new core curriculum and academic master plan
- Abolish “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and replace it with “equality, merit, and colorblindness”
- Restructure the academic departments to reflect the new pedagogical approach
- Hire new faculty with expertise in constitutionalism, free enterprise, civic virtue, family life, religious freedom, and American principles
- Establish a graduate school for training teachers in classical education.
Reactions from those against the change at New College include Democratic lawmakers in Florida and New College alumni.
“What was shocking to me is that this is coming directly from Ron DeSantis on a 700 person school,” Lauren Brenzel, a New College alumna, said. “This really is like a messaging attempt that’s putting a college in peril because of political aims.”
State law requires that the Florida Senate approve the six board members, but with a Republican supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, it’s all but certain they’ll be approved.
“It’s just disgusting to see Governor DeSantis use public money to essentially, politicize higher education,” Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said, calling the new members appointed by the governor “extreme” and intending to “mimic a faith-based religious private school in Michigan.”
“This is an unbelievable attack on public education and is gonna signal more attacks in our university systems,” Brenzel said. “And even people who are not new college alums should be really fearful of what that means for their alma mater.”
Eskamani put opposition to the trustee appointments in terms of a political battle.
“The governor is conducting a hostile takeover. It’s not just alarming for the people at New College,” Eskamani said. “It should be alarming for the whole state because it’s part of a multi-layered approach to attack higher education at every level.”
“It’s not the first attack on Higher Ed and it won’t be the last,” Eskamani continued. “And so even if you’re not a new college student, grad faculty, you should still, you should still care what’s happening.”