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Demonstrators oppose DeSantis' moves to transform New College

New College of Florida students, parents and alumni joined others to protest outside Thursday’s meeting of Sarasota County's legislative delegation.
Cathy Carter
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New College of Florida students, parents and alumni joined others to protest outside Thursday’s meeting of Sarasota County's legislative delegation.

Protestors gathered in Sarasota on Thursday to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent selection of six conservatives to join the board of trustees at New College of Florida.

Students, parents and alumni joined others to protest outside Thursday's meeting of Sarasota County's legislative delegation.

Their aim was to let local lawmakers know they do not support the selections.

The appointments come as DeSantis looks to shift the widely considered liberal New College toward the political right.

Demonstrators said the views of the new appointees do not align with those of the historically progressive college, and DeSantis' plan to model New College on the conservative education policies of Hillsdale College, a small Christian college in Michigan.

Tamara Solum, a parent of a recent New College graduate, was among the few dozen people at the protest.

"It sounds like what they are trying to do is create an homogenous learning environment with no critical thinking and I wonder if her ability to think outside the box and work with diverse populations would not have happened had this taken place after she had attended New College," Solum said.

New College is the public honors college of Florida, which allows students to mold their own programs of study, and where progress is measured by evaluations, not grades.

Freshman Ellen Benedict lives in the school's LGBTQ dormitory. She says although nothing has changed yet, some students there are worried about what a more conservative direction would mean.

"A lot of the air around there has been kind of gloom and doom cause New College is one of the places where you can be whoever you are and you're going to be accepted there," Benedict said. "And that's the point of New College, was diversity, inclusion, equality."

At the meeting, Florida GOP Chair and Sarasota state Sen. Joe Gruters said DeSantis' appointments to the school's board was "not a takeover," but a "bridge to save New College.”

Despite high rankings in a variety of categories when it comes to college review rankings, New College has for several years experienced low student enrollment and other financial stresses.

If confirmed by the state senate, the new trustees will serve on a 13-member board, which also includes five members appointed by the Republican-led Florida Board of Governors, one student and one faculty trustee.

Copyright 2023 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.