Monday, May 01, 2023

Meanwhile, In DeSantisVille: The TearDown of a Public College


New College of Florida, situated on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles north of downtown Sarasota, has a number of standout features. Its curriculum is unusually self-directed: it gives out no letter grades, and has an academic research project built around independent study in partnership with professors. Two-thirds of its seven hundred students are women, and there is a prominent queer community; in the past, New College ranked among the most “gay-friendly” campuses in the country. Those attributes make it seem like a progressive northern liberal-arts college, to which alumni often compare it, but New College is a public school, which means that in-state tuition costs under seven thousand dollars annually—a bargain—and also that it is subject to the influence of Florida’s state politics.
--Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker

So you might remember that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, in his crusade to make himself over as The Second Coming of Trump, "has sought to suspend the Walt Disney Corporation’s tax breaks because the company opposed his Don’t Say Gay bill; has moved to limit what teachers can say in public school classrooms about race and gender, and what books can be available in libraries; has encouraged state police to arrest and prosecute ex-felons for voting; and has flown migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt."

As part of his makeover, he also declared war on New College and took over the Board of Trustees with a phalanx of activist conservatives, which included Chris Rufo, "the ideological entrepreneur who made critical race theory a Republican boogeyman," and who said publicly that he wanted to turn New College into a Southern version of Hillsdale, the notorious conservative Christian school in Michigan.

When they got to campus, those new DeSantis trustees met with some outright hostility from both faculty and students, but Matthew Lepinski, a computer science professor and the faculty representative on the board of trustees, made nice in the classic naive hope of middle-of-the-road citizens everywhere that the faculty and the trustees could "find a way to work together," and as president of the faculty assembly, he urged the school community to give the new guys a chance.

The new guys bent only toward teardown: "The new trustees fired the school’s president, replacing her with Richard Corcoran, the Republican former speaker of the Florida House. They fired its chief diversity officer and dismantled the diversity, equity and inclusion office. They ordered the gender-neutral signage on school bathrooms scraped off."

Matthew Lepinski walks out of trustees
meeting and resigns

The last straw for Lepinski came when the new trustees overrode the normal process and denied tenure to seven new faculty members, who after five years on the job were eligible for tenure. At the most recent trustee meeting... 

Fifty-four people registered to speak. All but one of them either implored the trustees to grant the professors tenure or lambasted them for their designs on the school. Parents were particularly impassioned; many of them had been profoundly relieved to find an affordable school where their eccentric kids could thrive. Some tried to speak the language of conservatism: “You’re violating my parental rights regarding our school choice,” said Pam Pare, the mother of a biology major. One student, a second-year wrapped in a pink and blue trans flag, was escorted out of the meeting after cursing at Corcoran [the new college president], but most tried to earnestly and calmly convey how much the professors up for tenure had taught them. [NYTimes]

When the trustees defiantly voted "no" on all the applicants, Matthew Lepinski walked out of the meeting, which drew attention since he's the president of the faculty, and he immediately resigned both his position and his faculty salary as well. “Some faculty members have started to leave already, and obviously some students are thinking about what their future looks like,” Lepinski said right after quitting. A few days later, we spoke again. “There’s a grieving process for the New College that was, which is passing away,” he said. “I really loved the New College that was, but I am at peace that it’s gone now.”

What's happening to higher education in Florida is a warning, especially for North Carolina, where the Berger/Moore troops show every indication of DeSantis envy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Things are not as you think.

Follow the science!