Fostering an inclusive, welcoming, and open environment is critical for student development in college. It enables students to learn from each other and grow as individuals, and it is arguably the most important part of any liberal arts education. Unfortunately, these ideas came under fire last month in Florida, as Governor Ron DeSantis launched his takeover of the New College of Florida (NCF), the state’s only public liberal arts college.
The takeover began with Governor DeSantis replacing over half of the college’s Board of Trustees with Republican allies, including conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who spearheaded efforts to eliminate critical race theory instruction, and Matthew Spalding, a dean and professor at Michigan’s Christian Hillsdale College. Many fear that DeSantis is plotting to transform NCF into a “Hillsdale of the South.” The newly-appointed board recently voted to replace NCF’s former president Patricia Okker with David Corcoran, former Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives and right wing culture warrior. They also ousted the college’s general counsel, which had blocked an earlier proposal to implement prayers in a pair of meetings from one newly-appointed trustee.
In addition to replacing a portion of the Board of Trustees, Governor DeSantis also dissolved a number of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and attacked the college’s long standing tenure system by encouraging the president and board of trustees to review the behavior of tenured faculty members “at any time.” He also threatened the curriculum itself, suggesting that he would force students in public universities in Florida to take courses on “actual history and actual philosophy that have shaped western civilization.”
These changes come amid DeSantis’s “war on woke” crusade, which has resulted in his administration banning instruction of gender and restricting discussion of race in schools. At DeSantis’s behest, the College Board amended its Advanced Placement course on African American Studies to exclude lessons on certain Black scholars and anything related to critical race theory.
The changes at NCF mark a complete overhaul of not only the school’s administration and governance, but also its culture and student life. NCF is not unlike Swarthmore: its student body is largely progressive with many students identifying as LGBTQ, and it offers students a space for free thinking. Because of DeSantis’s interference with NCF’s administration and his dissolution of DEI initiatives, many marginalized students at the college have expressed their concern for their futures at NCF. If students feel unsafe and uncomfortable in their colleges, how will they be able to freely grow as individuals?
Beyond the school grounds, the changes have ramifications for the future of education. Anti-”woke” sentiment is growing across the country. Politicians across the nation are banning books and attacking curricula. If DeSantis’s vision for NCF is a “Hillsdale of the South,” who’s to say that another state won’t follow suit and transform their colleges into their own versions of NCF?
In response to the events, a group of NCF students, alumni and allies have created a movement called Save New College. Their mission statement reads:
“We are joining together to protect New College’s history and values, and to launch a call to defend the educational freedom of every college student, giving them a safe space to learn, think, and be who they want without government interference in their classroom.”
We, The Phoenix Editorial Board, support the Save New College movement in their fight to preserve educational freedom. As members of an institution dedicated to critical thought and diversity, we understand the importance and gravity of the issues confronting New College. It is important that the ideal of educational freedom is preserved, in order to ensure that all students feel safe growing, developing, and learning in community.