“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” ― George Orwell
The New College of Florida is a small (enrollment 632) college in Sarasota, FL. It falls in the middle of the US News and World Report ranking of National Liberal Arts Colleges (#76/210.) On the list of Public National Liberal Arts Colleges, it is #5 out of 18 behind the three military academies and VMI. The school is a tremendous bargain for Florida residents, with a $6,916 annual in-state tuition.
It was also known as an oasis of scholastic civility for their “community of free thinkers” in Florida. A state where schools have become a battleground between truth and propaganda and Christian conservative zealots attack knowledge and common decency.
Then Ron DeSantis won reelection, and the New College became another victim of his crusade to dumb down Florida. As the New York Times reported in February.
Over 25 tumultuous days last month, the Republican governor removed six of the college’s 13 trustees, replacing them with allies holding strongly conservative views. The new board then forced out the college’s president, a career educator, and named Mr. DeSantis’s former education commissioner, a career politician, as her replacement. On Monday, the board signed off on paying its pick a salary of $699,000 a year, more than double what his predecessor earned.
It was a conservative exacta. Ron replaced a qualified academic with a political ass-kisser and paid him a ton of cash to wreak havoc.
DeSantis was not shy in misrepresenting the academic state of affairs in Florida. In a January speech at the school, he vowed to turn the page on agendas that he said were “hostile to academic freedom” in Florida’s higher education system. And he caviled against programs that “impose ideological conformity to try to provoke political activism,” Adding, “That’s not what we believe is appropriate for the state of Florida.”
As always, it was pure projection. DeSantis is all for ideological conformity — as long as it is state mandated. Lockstep thinking and the embrace of orthodoxy is his goal.
The outgoing President, Dr. Patricia Okker, called the move a hostile takeover, saying:
“I do not believe that students are being indoctrinated here at New College. They are taught, they read Marx and they argue with Marx. They take world religions, they do not become Buddhists in February and turn into Christians in March.”
DeSantis has no use for that kind of academic broadmindedness. He cannot risk Florida’s young thinking for themselves. His dream is to crush free-range intellectualism with a Mao-style cultural revolution.
To help recreate the New College as a right-wing automaton production line, he is showering the institution with cash. There will be no conservative belt-tightening when the goal is a compliant student body. Legislation passed in May gives the school an additional $34 million to inculcate impressionable young Floridians into mindlessness.
State Rep. Jason Shoaf, the Florida House’s higher education budget chief, explained,
“We are investing in New College. With the new board and the new direction, we want to … [invest] in their success so we have another great institution on our list.”
This optimistic aspiration may have to wait. The school is losing teachers almost as quickly as DeSantis is sinking in reputation and poll numbers. Educators have buggered off to greener academic pastures. So far, a third of the facility has decided that indoctrination is not their thing. — a churn rate that Provost Bradley Thiessen described as "incredibly high."
With the amount of money DeSantis can throw at the problem, I am sure the school will find replacements. Sadly, they will be as poorly qualified to do the job as the New College’s new President, Richard Corcoran is. This man, who has never run a school, is the product of St Leo’s, a Catholic University, and has a law degree from Regent University, a Christian institution founded by Pat Robertson.
People who think this kind of state indoctrination will never happen where they live should remember that one of DeSantis’ oft-stated desires is to “Make America Florida”. As absurd as that sounds, many autocratic rises to power were incremental and started regionally. Worse, Florida's next governor will probably be as extreme as DeSantis. But unlike Ron, they might have the political skills to win election to an office where they can do damage on a national scale.