On January 6, the DeSantis administration announced an attempt to transform New College of Florida by appointing six members to the university’s board of trustees. According to the Daily Caller, these individuals are conservative activist Christopher Rufo, Dr. Mark Bauerlein, Dr. Matthew Spalding, Dr. Charles Kesler, lawyer Debra Jenks, and Jason “Eddie” Speir.
As the board consists of thirteen members, with six of these being the governor’s newest appointments and a seventh coming from Florida’s Board of Governors, it is likely that the ideological direction of the left-leaning New College of Florida will begin to steadily shift over the coming years.
This news quickly swept across the state, with mixed reactions from college students and faculty. However, while Governor DeSantis likely caught many by surprise in taking this step to reshape New College of Florida, the step was in line with promises the governor made just days earlier in his inaugural address.
A new focus for DeSantis’ second term
Upon being sworn in for a second term, Governor DeSantis has taken quick action to root out the influence of programs such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as critical race theory. As reported by the Collegian, the administration has requested that public universities, including Florida State, inform the governor’s office how much state money is being allocated to these “woke” initiatives.
While this was a broad, sweeping request, the recent effort to transform the New College of Florida is much more targeted. As New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote on January 9, New College of Florida “has a reputation for being the most progressive public college in the state.”
Given the university’s clear left-wing political slant, New College of Florida is an outlier among public institutions of higher education in Florida and has received both praise and criticism as a result. On January 6, DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin posted to Twitter that universities “should deliver an education—not an agenda—and prepare students for a successful future in the real world.” This is consistent with the governor’s championing of “education, not indoctrination” in Florida’s schools.
The reason for the “takeover“
DeSantis and his allies have argued that the college has strayed away from its original mission of prioritizing merit over “equity,” and that change is necessary. Aside from its emphasis on DEI and critical race theory instruction, New College of Florida also advertises courses of study in “queer studies, queer history, and feminist philosophy,” the Daily Caller reported.
However, while it is fairly common for public universities to offer courses that delve into such topics, New College of Florida is vocal in its endorsement of students specializing in these areas. A page on the college’s website is dedicated to outlining its gender studies program, its gender and diversity center (GDC), and the observance of “LatinX History Month.” Use of the term LatinX has been largely rejected by Hispanic and Latino Americans outside of progressive political circles, with only 3% of survey respondents from this demographic saying they use the term.
Specifically. the DeSantis administration aims to bring classical liberal arts education back to the state. James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff, told the Daily Caller, “It is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South.” Hillsdale is a classical liberal arts college in Michigan that has received plaudits from prominent conservatives for its educational model.
Reactions to the news
Predictably, there was praise and criticism following the governor’s announcement. Condemnatory articles from more liberal news sources such as the Daily Beast and the New York Times were quickly released. The former outlet interviewed students at New College of Florida, including Sam Sharf, a 22-year-old trans woman. Sharf has a history of remarks on social media praising socialism.
In pro-DeSantis circles, the move was applauded. Christopher Rufo, one of the governor’s appointments to New College of Florida’s board of trustees, told his Twitter followers that his “ambition is to help the new board majority transform New College into a classical liberal arts institution.” Conservative publications such as National Review and the Daily Wire also published pieces indicating their support for the governor’s decision.
How will Florida State be impacted?
While it is not obvious how Florida State will be influenced by the latest developments at New College of Florida, the DeSantis administration is clearly seeking to reshape how public education operates in the state of Florida. Given the overwhelmingly liberal nature of faculty at universities spanning the nation, and an increasing emphasis by elected Republicans on combatting progressive ideology in classrooms, the governor’s effort to reshape New College of Florida’s board of trustees could serve as a blueprint for elected officials around the nation to follow.
As a result of the administration’s recent attempt to investigate the funding of DEI programs and critical race theory instruction, it is possible that steps could be taken by our university, or state legislators, to direct funds away from these studies. For now, this remains speculation.