Breaking: DeSantis Appointee Chris Rufo Unveils Plans to Roll Back Progressive Takeover of Florida’s New College

Sarasota, Fla. — Christopher Rufo had a message Wednesday for the students and staff of New College of Florida: the small, public liberal arts school is in a crisis.

The student body is shrinking, not growing. The cost for a degree dwarfs that of other state schools. The school will "accept more or less anyone who applies," but most of the students who are accepted go elsewhere, Rufo said. The school is last in most of the state's performance metrics, including for the employment rate and wage levels of graduates.

And, Rufo said, New College has a culture problem. It's become a far-left echo chamber, where students with dissenting opinions or disfavored religious beliefs are ostracized.

Florida lawmakers have seriously considered dissolving the college, Rufo said.

"I'm going to level with you," Rufo said. "We're all here for a serious problem."

Rufo, a filmmaker, pugilistic conservative activist, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is one of six new members of the New College board of trustees who were appointed earlier this month by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Those new members have been tasked with reorienting the politically left-wing school as a classical liberal arts college in the mold of Hillsdale College, a private, conservative school in southern Michigan.

The move has been controversial on campus, where some students and staff have expressed concerns that DeSantis and his new appointees are trying to change the school for their own ideological and political purposes.

On Monday morning, Rufo and Eddie Speir, the founder of a private Christian school nearby and another DeSantis appointee, held a meeting with the colleges instructors and staff attempting to explain their mission and to take questions. About 100 people attended the morning session. A second session for students is slated for Monday afternoon.

The crowd appeared generally skeptical – if not reflexively opposed – to Rufo and Speir, though the meeting with staff was generally civil. People snickered when Speir suggested that wokeness is a kind of religion. When one staff member disputed Rufo's data, which he said is from the state, Rufo replied: "I can't see what you're saying behind your mask, but you're not right."

Rufo and Speir said their mission is to make New College a more tolerant place for dissenting opinions, and the kind of place where people with opposing viewpoints can debate civilly. But now, Rufo said, there is a "stifling orthodoxy" on campus. He insisted that he doesn't want to replace that with a new stifling orthodoxy from the other political side.

Speir said his experience so far is that New College is not a welcoming place, at least for him. "I can tell you death threats were made against me," he said. But, he added, "I think that we have a lot more in common than we realize."

Rufo has publicly called for a conservative transformation of higher education from within, and has previously offered a blueprint for how to do it.

DeSantis's staff have also been upfront about the effort to change the school's direction.

James Uthmeier, DeSantis's chief of staff, has said that "it is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida's classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South."

Bryan Griffith, DeSantis's press secretary, told National Review earlier this month: "As Governor DeSantis stated in his second inaugural speech: 'We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth.' Starting today, the ship is turning around. New College of Florida, under the governor's new appointees, will be refocused on its founding mission of providing a world-class quality education with an exceptional focus on the classics."

While the efforts to change the direction of the school have been controversial, Monday's events at the school have mostly gone off with little disruption. Some of the staff who attended the morning session brought signs reading "Support Educational Freedom," there were no real protests. A large number of Sarasota police officers were on hand, in part because of an alleged threat made against the event. There was a Sarasota police command post set up in a nearby theater parking lot.

Karen Stack, who lives nearby and whose son is a New College grad, attended Monday's event with a homemade sign that read "Stop the War on Public Education." She said she is no fan of DeSantis or the efforts he had made to change the direction of the state's schools.

"He's throwing red meat at a very conservative right-wing crowd, and he needs them because I suspect he is probably going to announce his run for the presidency," she said before the morning session. "And these are certain stepping stones to get him there."

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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DeSantis Appointee Chris Rufo Unveils Plans to Roll Back Progressive Takeover of Florida’s New College

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