DeSantis Plans to Transform New College of Florida

New College of Florida /IMAGE SOURCE:
New College of Florida /IMAGE SOURCE:
Dawn Kitterman
SARASOTA — Governor Ron DeSantis announced changes meant to transform New College of Florida, a liberal arts school in Sarasota, into a conservative-leaning institution. DeSantis appointed six new appointees to the college's board of trustees last week, one of the more controversial appointments being Christopher Rufo, dean at Hillsdale College and senior fellow at right-wing think tank The Claremont Institute. 

Another of the appointees is Dr. Matthew Spalding, professor of constitutional government at Hillsdale College and former vice president of American studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Dr. Charles Kesler, who was also appointed by the governor, is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute. Rufo, Spalding, and Kesler reportedly live outside of Florida. 

"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," DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier said in a statement. 

Hillsdale College is a small, private, conservative Christian liberal arts college in Michigan. Its mission statement includes that it considers itself "a trustee of our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem" and that it "values the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called 'social justice' and ‘multicultural diversity…"

Founded as a private college in 1960, New College ran into financial difficulties during the hyperinflation of the 1970s and ultimately allowed itself to be absorbed by the state's higher education system. It operated as a separate unit within the University of South Florida system until 2001 when it severed its ties with USF and became the eleventh independent school in the state university system. The school was rebranded as New College of Florida, with the legislature designating it as the official honors college for the state.

New College is governed by a 13-member board of directors, six of whom are selected by the governor and approved by the Florida Senate. The small public liberal arts honors college is one of the most progressive higher education institutions within the state, and the newly appointed members aim to move the institution in a more conservative direction. 

Rufo shared on Twitter that public universities have "been corrupted by woke nihilism," and that he is ready to transform higher education. Rufo said his plans included redesigning the curriculum to align with the "classical model" of education, restructuring the administration and academic departments; recruiting new faculty with expertise in the classical liberal arts tradition, developing a new core curriculum, and eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and replacing them with "equality, merit, and colorblindness" principles.

"My ambition is to help the new board majority transform New College into a classical liberal arts institution," Rufo wrote. "We are recapturing higher education."

The shake-up came roughly a week after DeSantis' office sent a memo to the state Department of Education outlining that all state university and college systems in Florida must submit a list of programs or faculty members who teach "Diversity, Justice and Inclusion and Critical Race Theory." DeSantis’ recent efforts are part of his war against so-called "wokeness" and his actions are intended to reshape education policy in Florida—the state where the governor has declared "woke goes to die." 

At the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation meeting this week, about 40 supporters of the college spoke out against the effort by the governor and his appointees to push a conservative transformation at the school. 

The Herald-Tribune reported that New College supporters gathered outside before the meeting chanting slogans such as "Save New College" and waving signs, including one reading "Stop the DeSantis steal!"

The meeting was the first opportunity for opponents of the planned changes to the college to address their local lawmakers. DeSantis’ appointments still require confirmation by a vote of the Florida Senate. 

Reader Comments
Robert Killough
JAN 17, 2023  •  DeSantis is aiming to replicate a private religious college where we now enjoy an outstanding, cutting-edge, open -minded honors school. Replace a college where students are challenged, encouraged to think. My tax dollars say inclusion and diversity are the way forward. It is obvious that "woke" is awareness, why does the Republican plan prioritize keeping the people in the dark? This is America?
Cat L
JAN 15, 2023  •  Right now the extreme conservative movement looks an awful lot like 1930s in Germany. I'm surprised we don't have a DeSantis youth squad, or an ordinance requiring gay people wear a rainbow armbands. The book banning craze is stupid though, all those kids have cell phones and now have a list of books to check out on the internet that they probably didn't even know about before. As a kid, I wondered how the Nazis got an entire country to do what they did, so I read about the history of their marketing tactics. And now I'm watching them first hand. If you cause emotional divide in your own country, you can get the most extreme of them to do a lot of terrible things. DeSantis is not a good person.
JAN 15, 2023  •  Can we dispel this notion that “woke” is a bad thing. It means being alert to racial prejudice and inequality! Woke institutions should be everywhere in the country and not be silenced like New College. Republican boomers are taking this state and County down…are we just gonna sit back and let that happen?!?!
Zach R
JAN 15, 2023  •  As an alum, I am appalled at what Republicans are doing to my alma mater. Thank you TBT for continuing to bring Republican cronyism to light. I hope we can stand together and fight this but I don’t see it changing realistically.
JAN 15, 2023  •  More radical republicanism! DeSantis, Boyd, Robinson, Gregory, Buchanan they’re all good ole boys. Trying to eliminate the only liberal institution left gimme a break
James F Tierney
JAN 15, 2023  •  “Woke” and CRT. Governor DeSantis loves these two words and evidently do his new appointees to the New College board. I don’t think a public college should be adhering to Christian beliefs as there is such a thing as freedom of religion (unless DeSantis banned that also?) Hillsdale College is a Christian school New College is not. Actually isn’t it “woke” to impose beliefs on others Governor DeSantis?
Randy Asunto
JAN 15, 2023  •  Aren’t “woke extremists” actually brave intellectuals who aren’t afraid to expose the truth about America?
JAN 15, 2023  •  New College is a state funded school. I suspect the changes the governor has in mind will actually enable greater diversity--the only relevant kind--diversity of ideas.
JAN 15, 2023  •  Looks like an All out attack on minority awareness
Robyn Davis
JAN 15, 2023  •  And for anyone who thinks there is a single thing wrong at New, read this article from the SHT and pay extra attention to the list of accomplishments by the school and its grads.
Robyn Davis
JAN 15, 2023  •  Alan, students at New get a top notch, graduate level education. I know because I am a recent alum. I attended as an adult student. I have never been so impressed by a group of teens and young adults as I am by that student body. They have a record high level of political engagement for college campuses, are the #5 liberal arts school in the nation, and you will not find a kinder, more inclusive bunch of students. A few years back there were kind to a white nationalist. Through their kindness, his world view evolved and he is now an outspoken critic of the nationalist movement and bigotry. That's a single example. They also can boast a record number of grad school admissions, and their alumni list is a who's who of successful adults. What do you know about New other than what has been in the press this week?
JAN 15, 2023  •  What happened to choices? If a prospective student doesn't like the mission of a school, they can go elsewhere. Obviously, many students like what New College has to offer. Just because the governor doesn't like it, doesn't mean it shouldn't exist. This seems authoritarian to me. And the trustees should at least live in Florida.
Alan Clark
JAN 15, 2023  •  Hillsdale is an outstanding institution. It’s curriculum includes civics, history, classical studies. Students get a useful education, which might be a radical idea at New College
Jim Nestle
JAN 15, 2023  •  Governor DeSantis is on the correct path here with this change in leadership.
Paul Finer
JAN 15, 2023  •  Is the current board overwhelmed by "Woke" extremists?