At Florida's Besieged New College, Apprehension and ResolveBreaking News
tags: Florida, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis, Christopher Rufo, New College of Florida
After her son began attending New College of Florida, Dr. Sonia Howman felt a pang of fear about the future of the small, little-known public liberal arts school on the shores of Sarasota Bay.
Her son, who identifies as L.G.B.T.Q. and had been bullied in high school, had found “a tiny place of safety in this increasingly hostile state,” she said. “I kept praying that DeSantis would never find out about it. But he did.”
A plan by Gov. Ron DeSantis to transform New College, which is known as progressive and describes itself as “a community of free thinkers,” into a beacon of conservatism has left students, parents and faculty members at the tight-knit school reeling over what they see as a political assault on their academic freedom. Mr. DeSantis’s education commissioner has expressed a desire to remake the school in the image of Hillsdale College, a small Christian school in Michigan that has been active in conservative politics.
Over 25 tumultuous days last month, the Republican governor removed six of the college’s 13 trustees, replacing them with allies holding strongly conservative views. The new board then forced out the college’s president, a career educator, and named Mr. DeSantis’s former education commissioner, a career politician, as her replacement. On Monday, the board signed off on paying its pick a salary of $699,000 a year, more than double what his predecessor earned.
Mr. DeSantis, who is widely thought to have White House aspirations, has made ideological attacks on public education central to his politics. His administration banned instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation through third grade, limited what schools can teach about racism, rejected math textbooks and prohibited an Advanced Placement course in African American studies for high school students.
“You knew it would eventually spiral to higher education,” said Sam Sharf, a second-year New College student. “But I didn’t anticipate it would happen this fast.”
Joshua Epstein, who is 17 and on schedule to graduate next year after amassing college credits while in high school, said that if anything, he had become more conservative at New College. He credited professors who teach many points of view and encourage students to make their own judgments. He switched his major from political science to quantitative economics and hoped to become a corporate lawyer or an investment banker.
“The painting of this school as a liberal university with all students who are socialist radicals is just not true,” he said.
He said he would welcome more conservatives on campus — for him, a close-to-even ideological split would be ideal — but feared that was not the governor’s goal.
“I wholeheartedly support any effort to bring conservative students to this campus and to bring more conservative professors,” he said. “I don’t want them to take the school and turn it into a solely conservative institution with only conservative professors. I think that’s the antithesis of what they’re preaching.”