Overhaul at Florida’s New College starts big, ousts sitting president

DeSantis' vision for a conservative-leaning "Hillsdale College of the South" at New College of Florida begins with President Patricia Okker's ouster.

DeSantis’ conservative agenda for Florida’s New College of Florida made its first major move Tuesday by ousting sitting president Patricia Okker, replacing her with former education commissioner and GOP Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

This move comes on the heels of DeSantis appointing six conservative trustees at the public university with the collective aim of revamping the school to emulate Hillsdale College, the private conservative religious “classical” college in Michigan.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are in the leadership’s crosshairs, deeming the school “completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning,” according to Politico. The board will be reviewing the school’s Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence sometime in February.

Among the trustees at New College of Florida are Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at conservative think tank The Manhattan Institute who has helped shape DeSantis’ disdain for critical race theory; Matthew Spalding, a constitutional government professor and vice president at Hillsdale’s D.C. campus; and Eddie Spier, co-founder of Christian Charter school Inspiration Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

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About 200 people held a demonstration to voice their disdain for Okker’s removal. For many, it can seem counterintuitive to revamp the school’s culture with conservative values when so many chose New College of Florida because of its reputation for championing marginalized students, according to Sam Sharf, who is transgender and identifies as a woman.

“There’s a lot of students out there that are not allowed to be themselves in their hometowns,” said Sharf, reported NBC Miami. “When they get to come here, they get to thrive because they really get to be themselves.”

Once a critic of DeSantis, Corcoran has become one of his fiercest supporters. He backed DeSantis’ anti-mask policy throughout the pandemic during his time as education commissioner; within days of stepping down, DeSantis appointed him to the Board of Governors. Unsurprisingly, he is against CRT and DEI being taught in schools.

“We know all the (classroom book) publishers, the publishers are just infested with liberals,” Corcoran said, according to The Palm Beach Post. “You don’t think to say ‘keep all the crazy liberal stuff out.’ It doesn’t say critical race theory, but you could definitely have a teacher who teaches critical race theory.”

New College of Florida Chief of Staff Bradley Thiessen will run the school until Corcoran is instated as interim president in March. As the school undergoes a conservative overhaul, it will be searching for a long-term chief executive candidate.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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