New Trustee Lineup at New College?

Under The Hood

Photo Courtesy New College of Florida Facebook page.

New College of Florida has long remained a bastion of liberal thinking in Florida’s State University System. That makes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ six new appointments to its Board of Trustees feel like a slap in the face. Indeed, commentary coming with it made clear it was intended as such.

“As the Governor said in his inaugural address, ‘Florida is where woke goes to die,’” tweeted Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz. “Florida’s colleges and universities should concentrate on providing students with a world class education, not indoctrinating them with critical race theory or other anti-historical nonsense.”

That seems relevant as Chris Rufo, a Manhattan Institute fellow who led the nationwide charge against critical race theory, was named as one of six new trustee at New College. Matt Spalding, professor and grad school dean at the conservative (and private) Hillsdale College, also was put on the board.

Other new trustees include Claremont Colleges professor Charles Kesler, Emory Professor Mark Bauerlein, Inspiration Academy Superintendent Eddie Speir and attorney Debra Jenks, the only New College alum in the bunch. Some bring respected, academic backgrounds, but with distinctly conservative bona fides. Others are simply far right culture warriors.

"We are looking forward to the new board of trustees getting to work on the ground at New College of Florida, assessing the immediate needs of the institution to bring about significant reform and to refocus it on its founding mission of providing a quality education with an exceptional focus on the classics," said DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin.

Expect the New College community to greet that with as much warmth as if Lollapalooza organizers announced a line-up of all country and Christian radio acts. It’s just not anything fans would ask for and will more likely revolt against.

New College President Patricia Okker diplomatically released a statement thanking DeSantis for filling long-vacant seats with new trustees. “I look forward to getting to know them and working with them to ensure New College continues to serve our students, community, and state in the years to come,” she said.

Meanwhile, former Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, a Republican State Committeeman, greeted news with partisan zeal, saying New College will finally be a place he can send his girls. “It sets the tone that higher education can and will be reformed if Conservative leaders are willing to step up, lead and act,” he said.

Republican lawmakers welcomed the development but critically didn’t phrase it in such ideological terms. Rather, they reminded of an uncomfortable truth. Whatever reason students today choose to attend New College, not enough do.

“New College is an indisputable gem in Florida’s education landscape, and I’m proud to have them and support the school in Sarasota,” said state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota. “But they’ve had issues with cost and enrollment as former Senate President [Bill] Galvano brought up several years ago. I hope this can be a positive development for the school’s future."

State Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, reminded “A few years ago the Legislature had looked into consolidating New College, given its dismal enrollment numbers and relative high cost to the state. Frankly, while slight improvements have been made, this new direction is needed and warranted. The current model is not working. I look forward to this fresh start.”

All this suggests bigger changes could be coming than a few ideological bomb throwers on the board. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, fought to keep New College independent. But he said there’s no doubt change must come. He called the Governor’s vision “bold.”

“Everything has been vetoed over the last couple of years and the model has struggled,” he said. “The state has propped it up but it is time for a transformation to a model that is sustainable.”

Of course, if the first question is enrollment, the next is whether those who love the New College of today will want anything to do with it tomorrow.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor at SRQ MEDIA.

Photo Courtesy New College of Florida Facebook page.

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