New College Trustee Shows Up, Pays a Price

Guest Correspondence

Screencap courtesy The Florida Channel: Eddie Speir testifies to the Florida Senate.

The story of the Florida Legislature this year was one of compliance. There were few fronts where the Legislature challenged the Governor’s executive moves, including his remaking of the New College Board of trustees. But a funny thing happened the last week of Session. The Florida Senate pocketed confirmation for one of the most controversial new voices on the trustee board for the Sarasota school.

Eddie Speir, the co-founder of Bradenton’s Inspiration Academy, has mere weeks left to enjoy any affiliation with New College. DeSantis may re-appoint him, but that will only set the stage for another rejection next year.

This news took much of New College by surprise. Rather than publicly rebuke an appointment on the Senate floor, leadership left him out of a bulk confirmation. Only when a list of executive appointments published afterward did media learn of the rejection. That’s apparently how Speir became aware. He blamed the school’s new interim president for the Senate’s snub.

“While the reasoning given to me was that I ruffled some feathers in the Senate, I don't believe that for one second,” he tweeted. “I am sure that I did ruffle some feathers, but not enough to overcome a supermajority in the Senate. I am confident it was Richard Corcoran working with his political allies to block me. It is easy to see why. I was resistant to being ‘handled and managed.’ I pushed to operate as an independent board. I was also very involved on campus, meeting with as many students, faculty, and staff on a daily basis. This meddling proved too much, even though most of our political and educational views align.”

For the record, I don’t think Corcoran created Speir’s problems. Rather, Speir did himself the disservice of testifying to the Senate at his own confirmation hearing. He was the only one of seven new trustees at New College to make the journey to Tallahassee. There’s a reason most criminal defendants don’t testify at trial. Senate Democrats destroyed Speir, not by challenging him directly but by giving him rope and building the rhetorical gallows from which he could hang.

Speir told senators his Christian faith drove every action, and he would use his position as trustee to spread his own truth. But he also assured senators he would stop students at the school from pursuing truths with which he might disagree. Asked about transgender students, he ranted about radical gender theory. And he promised to show up near-daily on campus to confront students about any topic.

“There’s been different truths that I have shared, that are causing a lot of concern,” Speir testified. “But what I’ve done is followed up on those truths and those statements by showing up on campus and engaging in debate.”

Speir had already earned the distinction as one of the most hated new trustees before he traveled to Tallahassee. He did that before the first trustee meeting, when he publicly called on his blog for firing all New College faculty and bringing back only those who fit with a re-imagined school vision. 

But Speir wasn’t the most controversial appointment. That would be Chris Rufo, a 38-year-old conservative bombthrower who lives in Washington and earned notice for leading a national campaign against critical race theory. He rarely attends New College events in person, spending trustee meetings tweeting insults of students from his home and voting by Zoom.

Speir notably shared a stage for a town hall with Rufo after both were appointed. There, the new trustees publicly called for the termination of the university president and provost. Soon after, trustees did fire President Patricia Okker, and after Corcoran succeeded her, the interim president replaced Suanne Sherman as provost.

Now the Senate has fired Speir, but Rufo remains. That suggests the Senate remains onboard for the trolling of liberals at the Sarasota school. But don’t show up in Tallahassee and start saying the quiet parts out loud.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ Media.

Screencap courtesy The Florida Channel: Eddie Speir testifies to the Florida Senate.

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