New College Makeover in Florida: A Case Study in Higher Ed Reform
New College in Florida has been making news lately, for all the right reasons. The Board of Trustees, with six new members appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), charts a new course for New College.
For context, a little history: New College was founded in 1960 as a private university. It was later absorbed into the University of Florida system, making it publicly funded. It’s a small college with fewer than 650 students in Sarasota. To be fair, New College is a highly rated public university in Florida and in the U.S. overall. It is an “honors college” with a contract model for course work. New College lets students design their own course of study. Course work is not “graded” per se, but professors provide narrative feedback to students through a timeline they determine together. New College had the highest number of Fulbright Scholars in 2020.
But that was then. New College is getting an overhaul. As described by Chris Rufo, among the changes underway at New College: “[President Richard] Corcoran has recruited a new team that is busy rebuilding the institutional capacity of the college, which had atrophied significantly under previous administrations, and is designing a new core curriculum, which will begin with an immersive first-year study of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and continue to provide a foundation based in logos (the cultivation of human reason) and techne (the cultivation of the applied arts).”
Student and faculty reaction to these changes is shockingly conservative for such a progressive bunch. It seems the new Board of Trustees’ pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful is a regressive and oppressive insult to many current students and faculty members. They are not on board with Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz’s goal: “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.”
Breathless news coverage of this development ranges from the unhinged to the comical. How dare any governor (no less a Republican governor) deign to make an impact on the taxpayer-funded colleges and universities? Who is the governor to attempt to oversee publicly funded universities, regardless of the overwhelming mandate to lead he is given by the voters?
The new trustees have begun the process of remaking New College into a classical college. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion dean and a “queer librarian” were among the first to go. Tenure for five professors approved by an interim president has been denied. The College is recruiting more students and placing more emphasis on athletics as an integral part of the new New College experience.
Bringing in a larger freshman class, one that is eagerly anticipating the new emphasis on classics over social justice warfare, is one of the best ways to ensure the success of the transition. These bright new students will be great ambassadors for the cause and will quickly outnumber the disgruntled — another smart move by a very capable group and New College President Richard Corcoran. Surely this effort to diversify both the curriculum of the college itself and the student body will prove more efficient than the DEI commissariat the Board of Trustees recently removed, as displayed by the 2022 tally of the student body composition.
The cancelation of Gender Studies seems to be the final straw for the old guard. NCF Freedom filed a lawsuit challenging the defunding of ideologically biased course offerings, among other perceived indignities. We look forward to updating you on this as events unfold. Pray for New College, for the leadership team, the faculty, staff, and students. Pray that God will be known there and everywhere.
Meg Kilgannon is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council.