Home News Tiny Public College Known for ‘Free Thinkers’ Is Latest Target for DeSantis

Tiny Public College Known for ‘Free Thinkers’ Is Latest Target for DeSantis


The denizens of the quiet campus are feeling a pervasive sense of uncertainty. Should they stay, or flee? Will the type of student drawn to New College fundamentally change? Will junior faculty members get the tenure they are up for? Will the new board or president fire the staff en masse, as one of the new trustees suggested should happen?

“Everything that’s been happening has been very disruptive,” said Elizabeth C. Leininger, an associate biology professor, noting that the spring semester began the day before the Jan. 31 board meeting. “It’s kind of like when we get a hurricane here in Florida, and everyone’s preoccupied.”

That New College faces challenges is indisputable. Its enrollment had been dipping until last year. Its dorms are moldy, its labs dated. There are few activities outside the classroom. In reviews posted on niche.com, a college ranking site, current and former students have criticized decrepit facilities, lack of structure and, in some cases, what they described as an obsession among students with identity politics.

The college performs poorly in state metrics — such as the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in high-demand fields and the percentage of graduates making at least $30,000 a year after graduation — designed for huge universities with economies of scale that the school just does not have.

Still, unsupported claims by Mr. DeSantis and his allies that New College’s students are being indoctrinated by far-left professors have offended students, faculty, parents and alumni, who feel misrepresented. Many said that the school welcomed young people who might not fit elsewhere — intensely bookish kids, bullied kids, kids with disabilities, queer kids — and required them to be driven.

That attracts a self-selecting group of young adults, many of them undeniably progressive and L.G.B.T.Q., who feel drawn to the existing student body, said students, parents, alumni and faculty. But that does not mean what is taught in classes necessarily aligns with students’ views, they added.

Joshua Epstein, who is 17 and on schedule to graduate next year after amassing college credits while in high school, said that if anything, he had become more conservative at New College. He credited professors who teach many points of view and encourage students to make their own judgments. He switched his major from political science to quantitative economics and hoped to become a corporate lawyer or an investment banker.

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