Corcoran in line to lead New College as DeSantis moves to curtail DEI, tenure at universities

Corcoran in line to lead New College as DeSantis moves to curtail DEI, tenure at universities

Former Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is in line to become the next president of embattled New College of Florida, while Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing to cut diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and curtail faculty tenure on state university campuses.

All of these planned changes apparently are intended to further DeSantis’ campaign against what he describes as a “far-left” agenda in higher education.

DeSantis said during a press conference Tuesday morning at State College of Florida’s Manatee-Sarasota campus that the state will halt funding to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and critical race theory “bureaucracies,” leaving them to “wither on the vine.”

He also said he wants to give university presidents and trustees the power to review tenured faculty members “at any time,” citing concerns about “unproductive” faculty and give presidents more control over the hiring process at their institutions.

Corcoran, a former Florida House Speaker who spent three years at the helm of the Department of Education, has been a faithful DeSantis supporter. During his time at the Department of Education, he oversaw an expansion of the state’s school voucher programs and a ban on mask requirements on public K-12 campuses during the pandemic.

Last spring, DeSantis appointed Corcoran to the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.

DeSantis during his press conference did not announce Corcoran’s appointment at New College, which was later reported by the Tampa Bay Times and Florida Politics.

One of the new DeSantis appointees, Eddie Speir, has proposed terminating all employee contracts and rehiring only those who fit into the school’s “new financial and business model.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, DeSantis preached the virtues of “classical education,” citing conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan as an example. He recently appointed several new members of the state’s liberal arts college, New College of Florida, including Christopher Rufo, an anti-critical race theory activist with ties to Hillsdale.

“Core curriculum must be rooted in actual history, actual philosophy that has shaped western civilization,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want students to go through at taxpayer expense and graduate with a degree in zombie studies.”

In December, the state asked universities and state colleges to submit information about their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including the amount spent on those programs. The state university system reported spending tens of millions, including more than $5.3 million at the University of Florida and more than $4.4 million at the University of Central Florida.

DeSantis now wants to bar universities from using any funding on those initiatives, which included courses in topics like LGBTQ history, women in literature and African American studies; student recruitment efforts; and health programs targeting poor and underserved patients.

Instead, DeSantis said, that money should be directed to his priorities, which will focus on “promoting academic excellence.”

His 2023-2024 budget proposal is to include $15 million to overhaul and restructure the New College of Florida, including support for students’ scholarships and hiring faculty; $5 million for operations and $13 million for capital needs for the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida, which will be renamed the Hamilton College for Classical and Civic Education; and $100 million in performance funding that must be used for the recruitment and retention of faculty at state universities.

The “Stop WOKE” law championed by DeSantis and other state Republicans last year says schools and colleges must not “subject” students or employees to training on certain beliefs, including that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” The law also calls for faculty members to undergo a review every five years.

A federal court has temporarily blocked the implementation of the law, with a judge describing it as a “positively dystopian” violation of professors’ First Amendment rights. But Florida students and faculty members are feeling its effects. Earlier this month, Valencia College canceled optional faculty development courses on diversity-related topics this spring because college leaders feared they might violate the law.

On Tuesday, Rufo said he planned to publish weekly reports of troubling examples he’d identified on Florida campuses, citing concerns about low-wage workers who help fund the state university system.

“I’m going to warn you, it’s ugly stuff,” he said, without providing any specifics.