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New College Trustees Fire Okker as President

Photo courtesy New College of Florida.

New College of Florida trustees voted Tuesday to fire Dr. Patricia Okker as president without cause. The decision came at the first meeting of the board since controversial appointments by Gov. Ron DeSantis dramatically changed its make-up.

Okker slammed the “hostile takeover” of the school. At the same time, she had negotiated ahead of the meeting a contract that allowed for a sabbatical and for her to retain a full-time teaching position in the English department unless she finds another job elsewhere.

New trustees pointed more at issues plaguing the college for years regarding recruitment and retention of students. While the Florida Legislature has pushed the school to raise its student body to 1,200, those efforts have fallen short.

"This college is languishing. It needs to be revived,” said Dr. Matt Spalding, a trustee recently appointed by DeSantis. “It's got a great potential future. It can be much larger, much more influential, much more of flourishing in the Florida system.”

Defenders of Okker noted first-time-in-college enrollments jumped 30% in her roughly 18 months as president.

Grace Keenan, the student member of the board, defended Okker, and said the school should allow her to usher the college through a period of impending change. She said Okker has identified problems like deteriorating housing.

But ultimately nine of 13 trustees voted in favor of terminating Okker. The board also voted to hire former Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran as an interim President. He cannot start until March, and administrator Bradley Theissen will lead the school day-to-day until then.

Trustees also voted to begin discussions with former Senate President Bill Galvano about coming on as counsel for the school.

A host of members of the public, faculty and student body showed up to the meeting to protest Okker’s firing and the new trustees as a group. 

Sam Sharp, leader of the group New College Students for Academic Freedom, said the board has come with incorrect conceptions about the school and a desire to expel important parts of the curriculum.

“We reject your attacks on LGBT students,” said Sharp, who is transgender. “We statistically perform better academically when we are in informing environments, allow us to thrive as our best selves. This is what New College offers to us."

Chris Kottke, a math professor speaking for the United Faculty of Florida chapter on school, came to Okker’s defense as a college leader.

“We fully support President Okker as the leader we need to realize the vision we share with trustees, a future of the college’s innovative, rigorous program, which is a model of free speech expression and critical inquiry."

Chris Rufo, another trustee, also pushed for the elimination of the college’s Office of Outreach and Inclusiveness. He said that department supports diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that aren’t helpful to higher education and violate New College of Florida’s founding mission.

He also said he spoke with DeSantis at a visit to Bradenton the same day as the meeting, and said the Governor promised $15 million in the state budget for New College so long as it moved in a different direction.


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SRQ Daily Archives

Welcome to the archives of SRQ DAILY: Freshly Squeezed Content Every Morning, produced by the team at SRQ Magazine. From this page, you will be able to view the most recent SRQ DAILY editions as well as search for a specific edition and keyword. The SRQ DAILY Business Edition runs on Mondays; the SRQ DAILY Philanthropy Edition publishes on Wednedsays; the SRQ DAILY Weekend Edition featuring arts and culture publishes on Fridays; and, the SRQ DAILY Perspectives Edition featuring op-eds, columns and letters publishes on Saturdays.

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This Week's SRQ DAILY Editions



Wednesday Philanthropy Edition – Feb 1, 2023

SB2 Luncheon •  The Hermitage Announces a Special Benefit Concert for Ongoing Hurricane Repairs •  Art Center Sarasota Welcomes Javi Suarez as Board Member •  Child Protection Center Awarded $10,000 •  Therapy Programs at Child Protection Center Continue To Exceed Expectations •  Kimberly Mills Named Certified Charitable Real Estate Specialist  •  Access to Low Cost Capital is Important for Any Business Enterprise. This is Especially True for Small Businesses. •  Manatee Community Foundation Announces 2023 Spirit of Manatee Honorees •  Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation Board Approves Nearly $8 Million in Grant Funding •  Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation Announces Leadership Contribution •  New College Trustees Fire Okker as President

Tuesday Dining and Food Edition – Jan 31, 2023

Bijou Garden Cafe Debuts New Winter Menu •  2023-2024 School Choice Enrollment Window February 1 to February 28 •  John L. Clark PhD Joins Botany Staff at Selby Gardens  •  LobsterCraft Highlights Connecticut State Sandwich •  Fords Garage Introduces Comfort Foods with a Twist

Monday Business Edition – Jan 30, 2023

SB2 Luncheon •  Christopher Alan Homes Announces Creekside Run Neighborhood in Babcock Ranch •  Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learnings 2023 Global Issues Series •  63rd Avenue Improvements Meeting •  Gruters Falls Short in RNC Treasurer Bid •  Sarasota County Extension Opens New Energy Coach Volunteer Training •  Intercoastal Medical Group Welcomes New Pulmonology and Critical Care Specialist •  International Networking Week

Saturday Perspectives Edition – Jan 28, 2023

Heroes Among Us •  Students Set New College's Culture •  Professional Experiences Benefit Students, Community

Friday Weekend Edition – Jan 27, 2023

New Fiction Book Review of Big Swiss by Jen Beagin  •  Babel at Florida Studio Theatre •  Chamber Orchestra to Showcase Pianist Joseph Kingma in Virtuoso Night  •  Bruno Sammartino Documentary Coming to Manatee Performing Arts Center •  The 10x10 Series Highlights The Powerful Influence of Time

Thursday Family and Recreation Edition – Jan 26, 2023

SB2 Luncheon •  Eat Well •  Timothy Ferguson of Garden Elementary School Named District 2023 Teacher of the Year  •  Children First VP of Programs Kathleen Sullivan Named to National Head Start Association Region IV Board of Directors •  A High School Rocketry Club is Shooting for the Stars  •  Sarasota Open Tennis Moves to $175,000 Prize Purse •  Embracing Our Differences Opens 20th Anniversary Exhibit with Grand Celebration at Sarasota’s Bayfront Park •  Ed Smith Stadium Box Office Opening •  Mini Golf at Smugglers Cove •  Join Creative Liberties Family Art Day •  Sertoma Club of Bradenton Donates $59,000 To Turning Points

Wednesday Philanthropy Edition – Jan 25, 2023

SPARCC Runway Presents Timeless Treasures •  Eighty Thousand Dollars Awarded to the Child Protection Center •  Education Foundation of Sarasota County Provides Scholarship Database and Jump Start Scholarships  •  Jennifer Abbott Appointed Interim Executive Director of Manatee Community Foundation  •  Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative’s 2023 Visions in Black Exhibit •  Sarasota Orchestra Awarded Strategic Partnership Grant from Community Foundation of Sarasota County  •  VMA Founder, Louis Parker, Retires as CEO •  Selby Gardens Receives $1-Million Gift for Master Plan •  Goodwill Manasota Opens a New Attended Donation Center

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