Students and faculty at the New College of Florida are planning to demonstrate during a board of trustees meeting Tuesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a conservative takeover of the small public liberal arts college.
In January, DeSantis replaced six of the 13 members on the college’s board of trustees with conservative allies, including Christopher Rufo, who has fueled the fight against critical race theory. The new board forced out the college’s president and appointed DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran as interim president. Corcoran will earn a base salary of $699,000.
DeSantis’ office insists that the New College of Florida in Sarasota has seen declining enrollment and focuses too heavily on diversity and inclusion, critical race theory and gender ideology.
The school community has been up in arms for weeks, with many students saying they fear the college will no longer be a safe place for the LGBTQ community or other marginalized groups. Several protests have been held on campus since the leadership changes happened, including a walkout by students last week.
“A lot of us are hurting right now,” said third-year student Chai Leffler, who is studying Chinese and urban studies at the college.
Leffler said New College of Florida has always been a school that has encouraged “free academic thought.” Lawmakers, he said, are trying to strip away that freedom by telling students what they can and can’t study.
“I don’t think politicians should really be the ones making that decision,” Leffler told CNN. “And I really don’t think that’s an unpopular opinion.”
DeSantis said last month that he intends to defund all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities in Florida. These policies and programs are created to promote representation for people who have historically faced discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
Tuesday’s rally at New College of Florida will also follow the introduction of a bill in the Florida House that mirrors DeSantis’ ideas for an overhaul of higher education.
The bill, filed by a Republican lawmaker last week, would put board of trustee members in charge of faculty hiring; defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs; eliminate majors or minors related to critical race theory or gender studies; and authorize boards of trustees to review tenure of faculty.
The bill was praised by Rufo, who said on Twitter that it restores the “principle of colorblind equality in higher ed.” Rufo is a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the conservative Manhattan Institute.
“This would be the most ambitious reform to higher education in a half-century,” Rufo tweeted. “Gov. DeSantis is channeling the sentiment of the voters, who have demanded that taxpayer dollars stop subsidizing left-wing racialist ideology and partisan political activism. Democracy returns.”
Some students and advocates say they believe DeSantis has proposed sweeping changes to Florida’s colleges and universities for political gain because he is expected to run for president in 2024.
But they fear the lasting impacts could be Florida colleges struggling to retain students and recruit faculty.
People pursuing graduate degrees might opt for schools in other states that support academic freedom, Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, told CNN earlier this month.
“The consequences for students are enormous,” Mulvey said. “They are denied the opportunity to learn and grow, students are denied the opportunity to hear important perspectives. That’s the real tragedy.”
The board of trustees meeting at New College of Florida is scheduled for 1 p.m.