New College of Florida hostile takeover shows the future of education under DeSantis

Higher education should not be forced to comply with the state’s political theater. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR

Gov. Ron DeSantis initiated a forceful takeover of New College on Jan. 31, placing six conservative board of trustee members and appointing close allies to fight against “woke” culture, according to a Friday report by VanityFair.

Higher education is meant to help students develop into mature, responsible and independent adults. The state should not dictate curriculum because of political disagreements. 

The students at New College of Florida were caught off guard when DeSantis appointed the new board of trustee members, according to a Jan. 31 Tampa Bay Times report. In a 9-3 vote, the board ousted President Patricia Okker, according to a Jan. 29 The Guardian article. The board immediately voted to appoint interim president Richard Corcoran, a former Republican state House speaker and Florida education secretary. 

Corcoran is a close ally to DeSantis, according to the Tampa Bay Times, showcasing the growing attack on freedom of education and expression that Florida has become known for.

Christopher Rufo, one of the newly appointed board members, gave a speech at Hillsdale College April 5, claiming conservatives needed to lay siege to institutions that have been accused of indoctrinating students with left-leaning ideology. Other board members, like Manny Diaz and Charles Kesler, have openly made statements about wanting to turn New College into a right-leaning classical college like Hillsdale, according to Vanity Fair

Each board member has one common goal – to completely change the environment of New College to one where “woke goes to die,” as infamously said by DeSantis on Nov. 9 during his successful reelection speech.

Legislation proposed by DeSantis would dismantle university programs that are deemed “ideological,” according to a Jan. 31 article by Politico. Students on campus see this takeover as a political stunt to shape education into a more far-right indoctrination effort.

“New College is unique in terms of how quickly and aggressively and brazenly things are moving. But this is very much a part of a broader push against educational freedom,” third-year New College anthropology major Alex Obraud said in a Feb. 8 interview with VICE news. “This school is a test case of how far you can take censorship and push politics in public schools.”

DeSantis has already begun to probe schools for how much state funding went into diversity, equity and inclusion programs, as well as the medical records of people with gender dysphoria and sought treatment, according to a report by WUSF on Feb. 9. USF students held a protest in response, but USF Health complied with the governor’s demands, according to a Feb. 2 Oracle article.

The past few weeks have taken classroom censorship to a dangerous extreme. With the Florida government stepping in, public universities are being forced to comply to control the hiring of faculty, the curriculum or ruling certain subjects out of bounds based on political beliefs. 

Policies that aim to restrict education surrounding race and probe colleges that offer a safe environment for LGBTQ students do immense harm to students learning how to understand and analyze society in a more critical lens, according to a Nov. 22 article by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IRDA).

When places like this are funded mostly by the state, it makes it hard for them to reject these programs. 

“If funding for particular offices is coming from places other than the state, certain areas may have a little more flexibility during these times, but I’m not sure how long that will last,” special advisor to the College of Arts and Sciences Dean on diversity, equity and inclusion Tangela Serls said in a Sunday statement to The Oracle. 

Regardless of the potential harm to college students, DeSantis announced during a live broadcast on Jan. 31 that he plans to get rid of “ideological conformity” in public higher education by eliminating diversity programs, weakening tenure protections for professors and focusing the curriculum on the history and philosophy that has shaped Western civilization. The continued attacks on education do not help better students, but rather leave them worse off. 

If DeSantis is worried about education, he should be focusing on accessibility for college students in the state of Florida rather than restricting resources or AP courses that challenge his world view for the chance of a good Presidential campaign in 2024. Florida students deserve better than to be forced under a blindfold by the sunshine state.