Ron DeSantis, Flailing Presidential Candidate, Is Still Waging a Higher-Ed Culture War

Ron DeSantis, Flailing Presidential Candidate, Is Still Waging a Higher-Ed Culture War

Ron DeSantis’s White House prospects might be in the gutter—but he and his allies remain determined to keep moving the battle lines on the home front. On Tuesday, the board of trustees at Florida’s New College, a public liberal arts school once known for its progressivism, chose as its new president Richard Corcoran, a former Republican state lawmaker who ran DeSantis’s Department of Education for over three years. The move comes nearly 10 months after DeSantis, a culture warrior hell-bent on purging “wokeness” from school curricula, filled half the seats on New College’s board of trustees with allies and conservative ideologues, including Christopher Rufo, a virulent anti-LGBTQ+ activist who helped popularize the right-wing panic over critical race theory. 

Grace Keenan, the school’s student body president and a voting member on the board of trustees, said Corcoran was clearly the least popular choice for president among students, per Axios. (Keenan was one of two board members to vote against Corcoran, who secured the other 10 votes.)

Corcoran’s appointment is the latest step in DeSantis’s mission to rebuild the Sarasota-based New College into a right-wing institution similar to Hillsdale College, a private school in Michigan famous for churning out conservative activists, pundits, and operatives. Over 30 faculty members have left the school since the governor began meddling in January, according to Axios.

Scores of New College students have also outright left or stayed in protest, labeling the DeSantis-led push as a “hostile fascist takeover,” as my colleague David Canfield reported at the school’s graduation in May. Some aggrieved former students have even helped found a breakaway institute online called Alt New College. “With over one third of faculty having left, we’ve started to bring in faculty to keep teaching students in areas under siege, free of political interference,” reads a mission statement on Alt New College’s website. “The founding spirit of New College will live on.”

But New College’s current administration has not taken kindly to the spiritual offshoot. Attorneys representing the school threatened to sue the organization for trademark violations and potentially sowing confusion among those looking for the brick-and-mortar school. “These actions have caused and will cause damage and irreparable harm to New College,” the New College attorneys wrote in a letter last week. 

Alt New College did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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