New College Trustees Fire Okker as President

Todays News

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.

Photo courtesy New College of Florida.

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