DeSantis’ Educational Coup in Florida

DeSantis’ Educational Coup in Florida. By Darren Beattie.

A month ago, nobody had ever heard of the New College of Florida, a tiny, “progressive” public college in Sarasota. Of the roughly 340,000 people in the State University System of Florida, the New College has fewer than 700 of them.

Now, the school is a national news story, because DeSantis’s administration is demonstrating that zombie left-wing institutions do not have to live forever. They can be torn down and remade, or defunded, if only there is sufficient will to act.

Despite its name, the New College isn’t new. It was founded in the 1960s, and until this month was a premier example of a taxpayer-funded university that was institutionally far-left down to its core. Like many such schools, it has a novel structure: instead of grades, students get written evaluations, and every semester students sign a “contract” to pass a certain number of classes. Students also have to complete an undergraduate thesis. Of course, the school puts a ridiculous emphasis on the buzzwords you’d expect these days: diversity, inclusion, equity, and so on.

The New York Times itself bluntly described New College as Florida’s “most progressive” public college… a funny label to affix to a taxpayer-backed institution that is supposed to be politically neutral. …

Ron suddenly burned it all down (no, not literally, even better):

In early January, out of nowhere, DeSantis announced a sweeping series of appointments to the New College’s board. In one day, six new trustees were named. Among them were [Christopher] Rufo, who should need no introduction, as well as Hillsdale government professor Matthew Spalding, and Claremont Review of Books editor Charles Kesler.

Mere days after his appointment, Rufo published a piece for City Journal laying out sweeping planned changes for the school:

Governor DeSantis has tasked us with something that has never been done: institutional recapture. …

My proposals include redesigning the curriculum to align with the classical model; abolishing DEI programs and replacing them with “equality, merit, and colorblindness” principles; adopting the Kalven statement on institutional neutrality; restructuring the administration and academic departments; recruiting new faculty with expertise in the classical liberal arts tradition; and establishing a graduate school for training teachers in classical education.

And a day later, the New College Board of Trustees voted to terminate the contract of President Patricia Okker.

Bam. The critical blow was struck, with minimal buildup and decisive impact. There is no pretense of “working with” a leader who will obviously be hostile, no sham review period or drawn-out consideration.

This is not a gradual cultural change. This is not a “long march through the institutions.” This is a taking by storm, and it is being made clear immediately. …

DeSantis chose well in making his first target a tiny school with no brand or name recognition. DeSantis’s conquest is clearly a test run, with lower stakes, executed against a small and obscure school with little institutional power to resist.

DeSantis recognized a reality that has long been true, but the right has been inexcusably sluggish to act on: In a world where academia is absolutely consumed with politics, a seat on a public college’s board of trustees is a political position, and needs to be treated like one.

Republicans have (mostly) learned not to appoint random people as judges. Board of regents seats should be treated with the same level of import. …

In just a few weeks, the Board desperately put out a new framework for its African-American Studies class that stripped it of CRT, BLM, and other politically loaded topics.

Of course, “African American studies” is still a joke of a subject and inevitably politically toxic, so Florida should still reject the updated version. But even if it doesn’t, DeSantis’s show of force ensured the course is better than it would otherwise be.

Even better — vouchers are the only way to ensure universal education while getting their hands off our children:

And while all that is going on, in the Florida legislature, Republicans are planning the passage of universal school choice, allowing any student in the state to receive a state-funded voucher for private or home schooling.

There’s more:

On Tuesday DeSantis unveiled a whole host of other higher-education proposals which would affect all of the state’s massive public universities.

Tighter controls on faculty tenure, the establishment of “civics institutes” at three universities and prohibitions on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. …

He also proposes changes in standards and course content “to ensure higher education is rooted in the values of liberty and western tradition.”

DeSantis said all students graduating from Florida universities would be required to take general education courses that include “actual history and actual philosophy that has shaped western civilization.”

His plan would require schools to “prioritize graduating students with degrees that lead to high-wage jobs, not degrees designed to further a political agenda.”

He fights!

Universal vouchers, weakening tenure, core curricula, CRT bans, and more: it’s all hitting, all at once.

This may be one of the regime’s core ideological domains, yet there is a very real sense that they are caught off-guard and being overtaken by the sheer speed of events. By the time the New York Times got around to covering the New College story in any detail at all, the coup was already nearly over.

I’ll bet if he was President, DeSantis could build a wall.

Glenn Reynolds: By nature, normals want to be nice. But to survive, they need to be scary.