As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attempted to burnish his hard-right credentials for a run for president, one of his big moves was a hostile takeover of the New College of Florida, known as the state’s most liberal public college or university and a place particularly loathed by white supremacists. Now, as DeSantis’ presidential campaign flounders, the damage he’s already done to New College in a matter of months is becoming clear as more than 1 in 3 of the college’s full-time faculty won’t be back for the coming school year.
DeSantis installed six new members on the board of trustees, choosing hard-right anti-LGBTQ+ bigots and opponents of public education: Christopher Rufo, the architect of the Republican “critical race theory” panic and a huge proponent of labeling teachers “groomers”; the superintendent of a religious charter school; the dean of the private Christian Hillsdale College; and last but not least, the author of a book so anti-LGBTQ+ that Amazon stopped selling it. The goal, DeSantis’ chief of staff said, was to turn New College—a public institution—into “a Hillsdale of the South.”
The new DeSantis trustees then fired the college’s president, Patricia Okker, and put in a DeSantis loyalist as interim president at more than double Okker’s salary. Next, DeSantis pushed legislation giving boards of trustees and presidents sole decision-making power over hiring at Florida public colleges and universities, weakening faculty tenure, and banning gender studies majors or minors as well as all diversity, equity, and inclusion programming. That affects every public higher education institution in Florida, but it was clear which college was most in the crosshairs of efforts to impose DeSantis-approved ideological conformity.
Go figure that faculty at New College who had the opportunity to leave are doing just that. Some of the 36 faculty who are leaving—out of fewer than 100 full-time faculty—had already planned retirements or other ways out. But most hadn’t. It’s a “ridiculously high” number of departures, according to the provost.
Richard Corcoran, the highly paid interim president, whined to the trustees, “The majority of faculty who have left have not given us any kind of consideration, or notice, or thought or anything.” The world’s tiniest violin may be playing for Corcoran, but this is a real problem for students at New College. There will be just one neuroscience professor this academic year, down from three, the Tampa Bay Times reports, which means there will be no upper-level neuroscience classes. That’s a big problem for juniors and seniors who have started a major in neuroscience that they now can’t finish.
This is what happens with the current wave of hateful Republican policies more generally. The people who can leave do. It’s not just faculty leaving New College if they can get jobs elsewhere, it’s families with trans kids moving out of hostile states to find the care and support they need, or businesses and the military paying for abortion-related travel. But while some people are able to escape these repressive Republican policies, the most vulnerable people are left to struggle.