Amid conservative makeover, New College of Florida sticks with DeSantis ally Corcoran as president

Amid a conservative makeover launched by Gov. Ron DeSantis, trustees of the New College of Florida voted Tuesday to stick with DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran as the school’s president.

The trustees voted 10-2 for Corcoran, who has served as interim president since January, over two other candidates to run the Sarasota school that for years had a progressive reputation and somewhat eccentric student body. Corcoran, a former state House speaker and education commissioner, is moving the school in a different direction.

“I think he’s done a great job getting us where we are today. I know we have a lot of work going forward,” Trustee Lance Karp said. “For the first time now, I’d say there is a lot of positivity.”

The other two finalists were Tyler Fisher, an associate professor who teaches modern languages and literature at the University of Central Florida, and Robert Gervasi, most recently the interim president at the University of Mount Union and former president at both Ohio Dominican University and Quincy University. Each got one vote.

Trustee Grace Keenan, president of the New College student government, said many students who were surveyed about the process thought there was not enough interaction with the candidates. There was also concern that Corcoran was hired mainly for his political background and is lacking in academic credentials.

“I see that there is value in having someone who has political connections, but that is only one part of what goes into being a college president,” she said.

Corcoran was selected after DeSantis overhauled the trustee board, tasking them with transforming the college into a classical liberal arts institution in the mold of conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan. The board has scrapped an office dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion, fired the previous school president, denied tenure for a group of professors who had qualified for it and even started a sports program with a mascot called the “Mighty Banyans.”

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New College has become the focal point of an effort by DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, to rid higher education in Florida of what the governor calls left-leaning “woke” indoctrination on campuses. In May he signed into law a bill banning the state’s public colleges and universities from spending money on DEI programs.

“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination,” DeSantis said at the time. “And that has no place in our public institutions.”

Although enrollment at New College is up with a record 328 first-year students, the transition hasn’t been easy: Many faculty members have left, and mold and other issues forced the closure of some dormitories, leading students to be housed in nearby hotels. The school has also been the subject of numerous protests by students, faculty and alumni who are opposed to the new direction.

Along with the academic and administrative changes, New College now has a sports program that will include men’s baseball, women’s softball, soccer, basketball, swimming and diving, lacrosse and volleyball. The school will begin play in the Sun Conference in the 2024-25 season.

The conference, a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA, includes smaller universities in Georgia and Florida such as Florida Memorial University, Ave Maria University, College of Coastal Georgia and Savannah College of Art and Design.