Since Governor Ron DeSantis’ second term began, controversy has surrounded his decision to launch what was described in liberal circles as a “takeover” of New College of Florida. As reported by the Collegian, DeSantis appointed six new members of the university’s board of trustees in early January, including conservative activist Christopher Rufo.
The governor’s move predictably drew condemnation from his opponents in the Democratic Party. But are the governor’s most prominent detractors primarily concerned with New College of Florida’s success, or maintaining their grip on institutional power?
In recent years, New College of Florida has distinguished itself as a progressive bastion of higher learning. In doing so, it seems to have sacrificed its formerly impressive reputation in the name of championing a political ideology.
This is not merely speculation. After his appointment to the school’s board of trustees, Christopher Rufo gave a speech to faculty members at New College of Florida. He noted that while the institution had nearly 70 percent of its students hailing from the top 10 percent of their high school class in 1993, that number has dropped dramatically to 21 percent in 2023.
The college has also seen its acceptance rate climb to 74 percent, making it one of the least competitive in the state, according to Rufo. While other liberal arts colleges have grown more selective in their admissions over time, the opposite trend has been observed at New College of Florida.
And remarkably, Rufo said, the average cost of obtaining a degree for state residents at New College of Florida has soared to $200,000. By contrast, it is less than $40,000 at Florida State.
These are sobering statistics that identify serious problems with New College in its current form. Unlike other universities in the state, New College of Florida has significantly driven up the cost of tuition for students, all while the quality of education offered appears to be declining.
Rufo’s desire to improve New College is admirable. Why isn’t everyone on board?
The answer is clear: Democrats have held a monopoly in higher education for decades, and are scared this may be slipping away. As the Collegian has discussed, liberal university professors far outnumber conservatives. Administrators are even more progressive, with 71 percent identifying as either liberal or very liberal, and just 6 percent claiming to be conservative.
The potential for the political status quo in academia to be shaken up — at the ultra-progressive New College of Florida, no less — terrifies many. 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 College has been praised as a shining example of a classical liberal arts education, and for good reason. Boasting an acceptance rate of just 23.7 percent, less than one-third of New College of Florida’s, Hillsdale offers an education that “is rooted in the liberal arts and sciences, offers a firm grounding in civic virtue, and cultivates moral character.”
Despite Hillsdale’s reputation as a “conservative” school, most Americans would not only find this model utterly unobjectionable — but something to be emulated. However, the governor’s opponents have described attempts to restore classical liberal education to Florida as “fascism.”
As university students, we should all want to receive the best possible education. Does anyone believe New College of Florida should prioritize the promulgation of progressive ideology over the academic and professional well-being of its students?
The answer to this question should be clear. Regardless of our politics, we should all hope that the governor’s appointees facilitate the restoration of New College of Florida to its former glory.