New College of Florida board ousts president as DeSantis aims to overhaul progressive college

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BRADENTON, Fla. – The board of trustees of New College of Florida fired its president on Tuesday, replacing her with a former Republican House speaker as Gov. Ron DeSantis has continued his assault on the progressive state college.

The school has been too focused on racial and "gender ideology," DeSantis said, and it will be reformed by a new board he put in place, which will get big money to recruit new faculty. DeSantis transformed the board of trustees earlier this year.

New College President Patricia Okker called the action a "hostile takeover" in a speech to the board before the vote to remove her and said she would not go along with the "new mandate" at the school.

"The vision we created together, is not the vision I have been given as a mandate here, and that is a hard reality," said Okker.

The board installed former Republican state House speaker and education commissioner Richard Corcoran, a close ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and ardent supporter of his education culture war battles, interim president.

In his new post, Corcoran will be poised take the lead in the governor's experiment in overhauling a public university to match his conservative approach to higher education.

DeSantis announced during an event in Bradenton that he wants $15 million "immediately" for faculty recruitment and scholarships at New College, with $10 million of that as recurring funds every year.

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The announcement indicates the governor is prepared to put significant funding behind his makeover of New College, which began when he appointed six new board members. The governor's funding plan came a few hours before New College's first Board of Trustees meeting since DeSantis reshaped the board.

“They have a board meeting today later in Sarasota which should be very, very interesting," DeSantis said.

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The move would lead to the termination of all employee contracts and the rehiring of anyone who fits into the school's "new financial and business model." These are all ideas floated by new board member Eddie Speir in a recent Substack post.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Democratic state representative from Orlando, linked Speir's proposal to the governor's funding announcement.

"After DeSantis-controlled board members of (New College) fire all faculty who fail to pledge allegiance to his agenda, the state will spend $15 million to import right-wing professors to Florida to replace them," Smith wrote on Twitter.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans are fighting what they say is indoctrination in public schools.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans are fighting what they say is indoctrination in public schools.

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DeSantis predicted a surge in new faculty applying to teach at New College.

"Professors are asking'how am I able to come join?' because they want to get out of the stuffy environment that pervades so many university campuses," he said.

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The governor said Tuesday that legislative leaders have agreed to give $15 million to New College immediately, saying the Legislative Budget Commission will approve the proposal in the next few weeks.

"You're going to have a situation where you're going to be able to go out, recruit people to come, say, 'Hey, here's the mission, here's what we're looking to do, is this something that appeals?'" DeSantis said. "And I think you're going to be able to get  a lot of good people to do it."

The New College funding announcement came during a press conference at State College of Florida in Bradentonwhere DeSantis announced a range of higher education reform ideas – notably a plan to defund diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at every Florida university.

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DeSantis blasted Florida universities, and New College in particular, for their DEI initiatives. He also accused New College of teaching theories that have become major conservative talking points in recent years, including critical race theory and gender theories.

“The mission has been I think more into the DEI, CRT, the gender ideology rather than what a liberal arts education should be," DeSantis said of New College.

Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who DeSantis appointed to the New College board, joined the governor at Tuesday's press conference. Rufo has been a leading critic of DEI, CRT and transgender policies.

New College supporters planned a protest ahead  of the board of trustee meetings.

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DeSantis said his funding plan shows he's committed to making New College a success.

"Think about it, how many times have (you) had $15 million dollars going into the kitty so that you're going to be able to recruit faculty immediately ... you're going to be able to offer scholarships for students who are high performing?" he said. "We want the institution to succeed; if we didn't we would just starve it of funding."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New College of Florida president booted, overhaul of progressive campus begins