A conservative shake-up at a Florida liberal arts college

Rush Hour

(NewsNation) — Until recently, New College of Florida was a small, somewhat obscure, public liberal arts school in Sarasota. But now, it finds itself at the center of the debate around what higher education should look like.

Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new members to the college’s board of trustees. The appointments are expected to be part of a new vision for the school that’s meant to refocus on “classical” education.

One of those appointed was Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who is one of the nation’s most vocal opponents of critical race theory.

In an article for City Journal last week, Rufo said the New College project could signal a “new era for higher education” and provides conservatives an opportunity “to demonstrate an effective countermeasure” against the “activist left.”

On its website, New College says it “values equity and is actively working toward eliminating outcome disparities for underrepresented and underserved groups.”

DeSantis’ office told NewsNation that line is one of the reasons for the recent shake-up.

The governor’s office said the school’s low enrollment numbers are another reason for the changes. New College of Florida’s current student enrollment, about 660 students, is about half of its target goal.

Those close to DeSantis have said the plan is to model the school after other conservative liberal arts campuses around the country.

“It is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South,” James Uthmeier, chief of staff for DeSantis, told the Daily Caller recently.

But some current students are worried about the school’s newfound attention in the culture war.

“We didn’t come to New College because we wanted to go to a conservative Christian school. We would’ve gone somewhere else,” said student Sam Sharf. “We didn’t want this and we didn’t ask for this.”

Sharf, who studies international politics and sociology at New College, is part of a group fighting against the changes to her school.

She believes what happens at New College could have broader national implications.

“We think this is a fight for educational freedom at all institutions, especially public institutions,” Sharf said.

In a statement to NewsNation, Desantis’ press secretary wrote that the new trustees are committed to “refocusing the institution on academics and truth” and said that the campus will “become a place for learning and discourse, as it was designed to be.”

NewsNation asked for clarification on what a “Hillsdale of the south” would look like as far as tangible changes to the university but did not get a response.

NewsNation also asked about concerns regarding taxpayer funding for the public university, if, in fact, it starts to resemble Hillsdale, which is a private Christian college. Those questions also went unanswered.

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