Attorneys for college taken over by DeSantis allies threaten to sue ‘alternate’ school

SARASOTA, Fla. – Attorneys for New College of Florida, the traditionally progressive public liberal arts college that was taken over by allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis as part of his “war on woke,” last week threatened to sue a group of former faculty members and students who have formed an alternative online institute named “Alt New College” after departing the school following the takeover.

Alt New College says on its website that it was created to teach free and subsidized courses and to preserve the original educational philosophy of the school following the “hostile takeover” of New College of Florida earlier this year.

“Over time, we hope to build an online institute that helps protect other communities facing similar attacks,” the Alt New College website said. “What is happening at New College of Florida is part of a national strategy to overtake public education and subvert a fundamental pillar of democracy.”

Among those backing the effort are former New College provosts, Bard College in New York and PEN America, a free expression advocacy group.

But attorneys for Sarasota, Florida-based New College said in a letter last Thursday that the online institute may be violating the school’s trademark and is likely to cause confusion. The attorneys demanded that Alt New College stop using the “New College” name.

“These actions have caused and will cause damage and irreparable harm to New College,” the letter said.

New College has become a focal point of a campaign by DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, to rid higher education in the state of what he calls left-leaning “woke” indoctrination on campuses.

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New trustees allied with DeSantis fired the school’s president in favor of former state House Speaker Richard Corcoran as interim president and scrapped the college’s small office of diversity, equity and inclusion. The trustees also have denied tenure to five professors despite criticism that such a move poses a threat to academic freedom.

More than a third of the school’s faculty members have left following the change and scores of students also have transferred.

The conservative takeover has gained national attention, prompting a visit in April by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California in which he sharply criticized DeSantis and the changes under way at New College.