Take the Money and Run

Under The Hood

Rendering courtesy Sweet Sparkman: Proposal for

It wasn’t long ago spending levels at New College of Florida drew critique in Tallahassee. Now, lawmakers seem eager to throw money at the Sarasota university. The reason, ironically, is Gov. Ron DeSantis’  war on a higher education system that elevated the middle class kid from Dunedin into a contender for President.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the hypocrisy of a Harvard- and Yale-educated pol undermining the “elitists” who provided so much for him. His deconstruction/reconstruction of New College in his own desired image served as poster child for that. Unfortunately, this resulted in an exodus of talent, both in faculty and the student body and a significant blow in prestige a think tank and baseball team won’t quickly fix.

But trustees, especially those who predate the board’s ideological thrust, have acted appropriately pragmatic about this “transformation.” While the academic world rolls its eyes or grows apoplectic about a $400 million budget proposed by New College President Richard Corcoran, those who care about the school’s future would be wise to think long-term.

Going from an institution state lawmakers treated as an albatross to becoming a symbol for DeSantis’ education agenda has its perks. Recall the war in Tallahassee against New College did not start this year. A few years ago, state lawmakers criticized the high per-pupil spending at the school, where it cost more to produce a four-year degree than any school in Florida. Back then, the Legislature batted around the idea of folding New College into another major institution. Then-House Speaker Jose Oliva publicly lobbied for the idea; Corcoran was notably House Speaker immediately before Oliva and served as the fiscally hawkish lawmaker's mentor.

But behind the scenes, then-Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton lawmaker, had also quietly pushed for such a change, if only as threat so New College finally became serious about student recruitment. Galvano had grown tired of fighting for years to stop-gap the budget at the tiny school as its enrollment dwindled below 800 students. But the idea died in the Senate, where Sen. Joe Gruters, a Galvano ally, pushed back against any consolidation plan.

Today, Galvano serves as New College’s general counsel. Gruters’ wife, Sydney Gruters, runs the New College Foundation. Oliva serves on Florida’s Board of Governors, which thus far has approved of every change at New College this year (and in an oft-overlooked move named one of the trustees seen as part of the DeSantis takeover). And Corcoran, with a base salary of $699,000 a year, runs the university.

Corcoran’s massive budget generated a fresh round of headlines nationwide. Many have pointed out this will balloon per student spending to six figures a pupil, an amount exponentially higher than the spending that once made Tallahassee leaders question if the school should be reduced to a satellite campus for another institution.

Clearly, a conservative makeover at the school doesn’t include acting fiscally conservative. But leaving the budget talks aside, the school boasts more political capital than ever. And while high salaries and accusations of grifting earn some attention, there’s infrastructure improvements already on the way.

New College just hired Sweet Sparkman as the architect to rebuild the legendary I.M Pei dorms on campus. The side story to low enrollment has been that many dorms became unlivable through neglect, and many long-time students this year have been moved into hotels. The campus couldn’t house students if it had hit enrollment targets before.

That problem is being fixed.

I’ve noted before the tenure of conservative trustees will be temporary. And time is winding down on DeSantis’ term as Governor. But capital improvements are forever.

Those who care about New College’s long-term future might want to take the immortal advice on the Steve Miller Band. Take the money and run.

Jacob Ogles is senior contributing editor for SRQ MEDIA.

Rendering courtesy Sweet Sparkman: Proposal for

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