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  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently appointed six new trustees to a public liberal arts college accused of promoting “woke” politics.
  • DeSantis and others have also targeted professor tenure as a means of cracking down on critical race theory.
  • Conservative organizations continue to funnel money into academia in an effort to influence course offerings and scholarship.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to overhaul the board of trustees at a progressive public college was his latest move in a larger movement against so-called “woke” education

“Like so many colleges and universities in America, New College of Florida has been completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’s press secretary, told USA TODAY, attributing low student enrollment and other financial challenges to the college’s “skewed focus and impractical course offerings.” 

The shake-up is part of a years-long effort by DeSantis and a growing contingent of conservative leaders to chip away at what they view as higher education’s liberal bias. They’re shepherding legislation targeting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and critical race theory, including bills explicitly addressing colleges through provisions that would reduce tenure. They’re shaping higher education in more subtle ways, too, including through philanthropic giving

Observers say these trends will continue into 2023 as legislative sessions kick off and key players ramp up their campaigns for national elections.

Conservative board takeover:DeSantis seeks to transform Sarasota’s New College

‘We will not go down without a fight’:New College students respond to DeSantis

What happened at New College of Florida?

New College has a reputation as a left-leaning college. All but two of the new appointees to New College’s board of trustees are prominent conservatives.

DeSantis’s chief of staff has said the hope is to make New College into something “more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South.” 

Hillsdale is a private Christian college in Michigan that has been lauded by some on the right for championing conservative values. The college doesn’t receive any federal funding, exempting it from some of the civil-rights mandates typically applied to higher education institutions. 

More:Can Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recreate Michigan’s Hillsdale College in his state?

The prospective New College trustees “are committed to refocusing the institution on academics and truth and ensuring that students are receiving a quality education,” said Griffin. “The campus will become a place for learning and discourse, as it was designed to be.”


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