Over the past several years, Republicans have very gradually acquired some backbone in pushing back against progressive idiocy. But a glaring example of failure to push back remains in the state university systems, very much including those of the red states. In essentially all of those states, Republican governors and legislatures have allowed the very worst of Marxist and racist monoculture to fester and metastasize not only without opposition, but with ever-increasing taxpayer funding.
Well, count on Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida to be the one to finally step up and do something about it. On January 6, DeSantis announced the appointment of six new trustees to the board of a unit of the Florida state university system called New College of Florida. New College, located in Sarasota, is supposed to be a “top-ranked public liberal arts college” and the “Honors College” of the Florida state university system, with special programs for the very best students. But in recent years it has become, in the words of the Tampa Bay Times, “one of the most progressive higher-education institutions in the state” — in other words, it has been taken over by the extreme progressive Left.
Are the new trustees going to be able to make significant changes in a short period of time? You may think at first that rapid changes will be impossible because the new trustees will face unified and vitriolic opposition from the existing faculty and students. Most of the faculty are tenured and cannot be fired, certainly not for political beliefs or speech. So won’t the new trustees get stymied and be forced in short order to back down?
My view is that there are steps that the new trustees can take that should be able to turn things around much more quickly than you might think. In this post I provide some of my suggestions.
But first, a review of the governance situation at New College. The Board has 13 members. DeSantis has just appointed six, which is one short of a majority. Four of the six — Christopher Rufo, Matthew Spalding, Charles Kessler, and Mark Bauerlein — can fairly be described as conservative activists in the education space on the national stage. The other two (Debra Jenks and Jason Speir) are based in Florida and don’t have national reputations, but undoubtedly are well-known to and vetted by DeSantis and his people. All six, according to the Tampa Bay Times, were selected by DeSantis as part of his effort to fight what he calls “philosophical lunacy” in Florida universities.
Here’s a picture of me with Christopher Rufo at a Manhattan Institute event back in 2021:
The six new trustees are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate. Given that Republicans currently hold 28 of 40 seats in that body, I suspect that confirmation will not be a problem. However, I am certainly not an expert on local Florida politics.
But how about the other seven trustees? According to the New College website, those seven consist of the “chair of the faculty,” the “president of the student body,” and then five others appointed by something called the Florida Board of Governors. I would assume that the faculty chair and student body president will be dead set against what DeSantis is trying to do. However, it turns out that the Florida Board of Governors is a seventeen member body of which fourteen are appointed by the Governor, for seven year terms. That means that by this time all of the fourteen should be appointees of DeSantis or his predecessor, Republican Governor Rick Scott. While I don’t recognize any of their names, nor the names of the New College trustees they have appointed, I would have to think that at least one or two, and maybe more, of the Board of Governors-appointed trustees at New College would be supportive of the initiatives of the new trustees to turn things around.
So for what follows, I’m going to assume that with the six new appointments, the conservatives now have a working majority of the New College board. Here are my suggestions:
- Replace the President. The current President, Patricia Okker, is a specialist in women’s and minority literature. That can’t be good.
- Fire the entire “diversity, equity and inclusion” staff. As with essentially all universities and colleges today, the website makes clear that DEI is currently a major focus of the institution. These DEI people are toxic. And they don’t have tenure. In addition, firing them will free up substantial budget funds, some of which will be needed for other initiatives. While you’re at it, fire all the other non-tenured sub-deans and vice-deans and associate deans who dabble in progressive orthodoxy enforcement in any respect.
- Replace the “diversity, equity and inclusion” bureaucracy with one person of a known conservative bent and a title something like “Dean of Students.”
- Promptly institute a clear and definitive “free speech” policy that defines freedom of speech as a core value of the community, even if the speech is found unpleasant or even “hateful” by some. State clearly that disruption of invited speakers is not permitted, and outline exactly what the punishment will be for violation.
- Then start a college-sponsored speakers program featuring prominent speakers of national reputation, from both left and right. By all means invite a fair representation of speakers from the left. But from the right, be sure to invite some of the people who are serious and rational but have been known to provoke protests, some violent, from the Left. People like Heather Mac Donald, or Charles Murray, or Abigail Shrier, or Ryan Anderson.
- When a “controversial” speaker from the right comes, do not allow threats of protest to force cancellation under any circumstances. Instead, hire overwhelming security for the event. You will have plenty of money as a result of firing the DEI bureaucracy. There should be only one rule on attending the events — no masks. Other than that, you want the protesters to come, and you want them to protest. When they protest and disrupt the event, you film them, make sure to get clear identification, and have them arrested promptly and escorted out. Under all circumstances, the event proceeds. Do not back down on this.
- Impose swift and sure punishment on the disrupters. I suggest, for the first offense, suspension for the semester with a grade of F for all courses in progress. If the offender comes back after that, the second offense should earn a permanent suspension. And how about permanent disqualification from in-state tuition discounts for Florida residents at the entire university system? (That one may take legislative authorization.)
- Institute one required course for all students, with a name something like “Current Issues In American Politics.” The class will meet once per week to discuss a hot button issue in the current political debate — climate change one week, transgenderism the next, urban crime the next, and so forth. The class should feature speakers to fairly represent both the conservative and liberal position on each subject, brought in from outside if necessary.
- If any students claim they are offended or “harmed” by having to sit through a course like this, they should be called in for a chat with the Dean of Students, where it will be politely suggested that “this school may not be right for you.” If any students protest or disrupt the class, they should be treated the same as protesters at the speakers program. Again, security should be overwhelming and clearly sufficient to clear any protesters promptly so that the class can proceed.
- The tenured faculty should not be fired except perhaps in the most extreme cases. Tenure is actually important to protecting voices on the right at many universities, and the new trustees should be careful not to impose rules that they would not support if the shoe were on the other foot. However, radical tenured faculty do not need to be offered additional perks like plum committee assignments, or a prominent role in admissions. There is no reason why Marxism cannot be met with scorn and derision.
I think that just these steps should be sufficient to largely cure the wokism problem at New College within one year, two at most. Of course one effect may be to cause the radical leftists to feel unwelcome at New College and seek refuge elsewhere in the Florida State University system. To head off that problem, the same series of steps will need to be implemented at the other colleges and universities in the system.
So I wish Mr. Rufo and his colleagues the best of luck in their new venture. The key point is, don’t back down!