How to kill a university

Pay attention, Republicans. I know this is what you want.

Florida’s New College has had a rocky time since DeSantis was elected governor. He hates the liberal arts university, and placed a lot of anti-education administrators in charge — first and foremost, that execrable hack Chris Rufo, straight from the anti-science propaganda outlet, the Discovery Institute.

But first, some good news! Enrollments are up.

The incoming freshman class, which is the largest in New College’s history, will include at least 341 students; 155, or just under half, are student athletes, according to university spokesperson Nathan March.

That is very good news. I know my university has suffered with low enrollments for the past few years, thanks to the pandemic. My upper-level course enrollments are still looking worryingly low this year, but my freshman class is having a surge, which is promising for the future. I’d say this also promises excellent prospects for New College, except…

They seem to be using athletics to lure in new students. Student athletes are great, well-rounded students for the most part, so that’s not intrinsically bad, but the question is whether the new class is appropriately focused. We have lots of student athletes at UMM too, but they know their primary goal is to get an education. Is that true for new students attracted to New College?

I also wonder, given the notoriety of the changes Florida Republicans have been imposing, how many of these new students are right wing goons seeing an opportunity to undermine a liberal arts university.

Another problem: they don’t seem to have planned ahead. They’ve got more first year students, but no place to put them, so they’ve booked an off-campus hotel to house the surplus.

Students first heard in June that there was a chance their housing contracts, which were finalized in April, could change, according to a Tampa Bay Times article from July. Apartments typically reserved for juniors and seniors would now house the more than 100 new student athletes New College had admitted for the fall.

The remaining students are being squeezed into the other dorms on campus—except for a number of rooms that are offline due to mold and other structural problems—or being asked to live in a nearby hotel, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Sarasota Bradenton Airport, if they cannot secure their own off-campus housing. The college has rented out the entire Home2 Suites for the semester, totaling 133 beds, according to the contract between the institution and the hotel.

Oops, there’s the student athletes getting priority again. The hotel is a mile off campus, requiring students to walk along a busy highway to get to class.

Students placed in the Home2 Suites hotel worry about how they will commute to and from New College, about a mile away. For those without vehicles, the journey consists of a 15-minute walk largely along a stretch of busy highway. Parents and faculty have also complained that high levels of crime make the area unsafe, especially at night. While a shuttle is available, it is infrequent—running hourly until 11 p.m.—and can only carry a handful of passengers.

“They don’t seem to be able to plan ahead very well at all,” said Hannah Galantino-Homer, whose son was assigned to live in the Home2 Suites, although he had already decided to transfer out of New College by the time he got the news a few weeks ago. “Like, you don’t think people need to be on campus after [11]?”

This is a huge coordination and planning problem. If your enrollments are over your capacity, the responsible thing to do is tighten up your admission requirements and get the numbers down to what you can handle. Recruiting lots of students mainly on their athletic ability is not a great long-term solution.

I haven’t even gotten to their big problem yet: they’re hemorrhaging faculty.

When a committee of the New College of Florida Board of Trustees met in July, a whopping 36 faculty members had already left since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initiated a conservative restructuring of the institution in January. That number has subsequently grown to more than 40, Amy Reid, the sole faculty member on the board, told Inside Higher Ed.

Now, as students prepare for the fall semester, the impact of the faculty exodus is becoming apparent: many classes won’t be offered at New College this term.

The course catalogue was already sparse when students first began looking at classes last spring. Dani Delaney, the mother of one former New College student who is transferring to Hampshire College in Massachusetts—which guaranteed admission to all New College students in good standing—said her son could only find two classes that counted towards his “area of concentration” (which is what New College calls majors). When he contacted the institution about the lack of relevant courses, she said, he was told the course catalogue was “in flux” and to “choose something else.”

This is a disaster for a small university, where we’re often operating on the knife’s edge of staffing.You need a critical mass of diverse skills to properly teach a discipline. For instance, our physics department lost two faculty to retirement, leaving one person to teach everything (we didn’t plan far enough ahead), which is not viable. We were frantically scrambling to hire short term faculty while trying to get approval to hire tenure-track replacements. I can’t imagine what the New College departments are doing, adding the abrupt losses to the fact that New College is not an attractive venue for the best new faculty. On top of that, they’re disorganized and using political ideology to wreck programs.

“For neuroscience, there’s only one elective beyond the introductory level right now, which is not healthy,” Leininger said, noting that the number of faculty in NCF’s neuroscience program has declined from three to one. “The number of choices students have this year is drastically reduced … if one of those classes conflicts with another class they have to take that is completely required, they’re going to have trouble staying on track for their major.”

Leininger said she received permission from her new institution to teach New College’s neurobiology course over Zoom—a plan the NCF administration at first seemed to embrace. In an email to Leininger that she shared with Inside Higher Ed, Bradley Thiessen, the college’s interim provost said he would “advocate” for her to teach the course if she was willing and able to do so.

But about two months later, she got word from NCF that she would not be allowed to teach the class, for reasons that were not explained. She suspects it may have something to do with her outspoken opposition to the direction DeSantis and the board are taking the institution, which has included speaking to the media about her decision to leave and reposting criticisms of the administration on X.

That’s what happens when you let incompetent hacks take charge. They’re losing the confidence of the students and their parents, too.

Dani Delaney’s son, a rising sophomore, decided he wouldn’t return to New College this semester in large part because he felt uneasy about the university’s decision to walk back the housing assignments students chose last spring.

He replied to multiple emails from the residential life department saying he wouldn’t be attending in the fall. Nevertheless, he received a notice on Aug. 9 telling him he had forfeited his spot in campus housing by failing to respond.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, how many other people might have gotten that same email of, hey, basically, you’re on your own, kid,” Delaney said. “It just shows that they have not committed to what’s in the best interest of the student body. It’s so wrong, the way they’ve gone about it. The disorganization—I can’t wrap my brain around it. This is not how you run a college.”

I wonder how many of those new enrollments will still be there in a year or two? How many will be able to successfully graduate?

There might be a bit of climate shock moving from Florida to Minnesota, but we’d welcome any transfer students who’d like to attend a stable, reliable university, with the capacity to handle them and also the responsibility to provide a good learning environment.


  1. whywhywhy says

    Of course the first step when conservatives take over a liberal arts institution is to install a sports program. I love sports. I love playing them and watching them. I also know they are not necessary for an education and at times are corrupting of educational institutions.

    Once the success of the team becomes more important than the education of the player, it should be shut down.
    If it costs each student over $1000 dollars a year to support the sports program, then it should be shutdown (good bye to most Div I football programs including my alma mater).
    *If the sports program generates more than 10% of the budget for the school, it should be spun out into its own entity or shut down before it corrupts the focus on education.

  2. Allison says

    I’ve been following this on and off, ever since New College decided to become part of the University of Florida system, because my brother went there, back when it was a very liberal college for elite students with flexible programs. I don’t know if the goal is to destroy New College completely, because of its history, or they simply want to turn it into its antithesis, but I have the impression that, in any case, the DeSantis posse will not shed a tear if it has to close its doors.

    I can’t say that the DeSantis posse are actualy (neo-?) Nazis, but they do share with the Nazis a contempt for anything intellectual.

  3. raven says

    For those without vehicles, the journey consists of a 15-minute walk largely along a stretch of busy highway.

    It doesn’t sound like they even have a sidewalk. Or a bike path/sidewalk.

    This does sound dangerous.
    It’s a matter of time until one of those students is hit by a car.

    Tuition & Fees – New College of Florida › admissions › first-year-students

    2023-2024 Estimated Student Budget ; Direct Costs ; Tuition & Fees, $6,916, $ 29,944 ; Food & Housing, $10,489, $10,489 ; Direct Costs Subtotal: $17,405, $40,433.

    New College of Florida does have one thing going for it.
    Relatively low cost instate tuition at $6,916.
    (Out of state tuition is outrageous. Not worth it.)
    Then again, this is true for the entire Florida state system.

  4. raven says

    I don’t know why Florida and its christofascists even bothered to target New College.

    Degrees awarded: Bachelor of Arts, Master’s in Science in Data Science · Enrollment: 689 undergraduate and graduate students (Fall 2022) · Student-faculty ratio: …

    This is a really small enrollment.
    689 students in a state population of 22 million isn’t even a rounding error.
    Any problems they have there are going to be amplified because the place is so small.
    It makes it harder to work around them or get away from them.

    I’m guessing DeSantis and the fascists just wanted to wreck something to wreck something and New College is so small it is an easy target.
    Just like targeting Trans children and adults who are 0.6% of the population.
    And unlike the cartoon mouse they also targeted, which turned out to be a giant 10 foot tall mouse with a lot of lawyers and money behind it.

  5. tacitus says

    I’m guessing DeSantis and the fascists just wanted to wreck something to wreck something and New College is so small it is an easy target.

    Pretty sure the goal was to rapidly turn “failed” liberal arts New College into a resounding conservative higher education success story for DeSantis to trumpet in his presidential campaign next year.

    But, as usual, they appointed an unqualified rube to oversee the transformation and they put together a half-assed plan on the cheap (because how hard could it be?) which inevitably started falling apart almost immediately.

    Once DeSantis drops out of the race, this latest experiment in right-wing higher education will be quietly disowned and disregarded, and DeSantis’s lackeys will move on to the next Republican grift, leaving those left behind to pick up the pieces or put up the shutters.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    raven @ # 4: I don’t know why Florida and its christofascists even bothered to target New College.

    New College was a bastion of freethinking, with individualized study programs and a “question everything” mindset (and a large proportion of gay/trans/non-binary students) – an obvious irresistible target for obsessive reactionary culture warriors.

    Many at the University of Florida have told me NC was created explicitly to drain off the “radicals” from the other state universities, and that it succeeded. Given that DeKlantis continues to drive the best minds out of Florida faculty and student bodies, we should not expect any sort of return to the ’70s “Berkeley of the South” heyday at UF or elsewhere in the state, either.

    Once DeSantis drops out of the race, this latest experiment in right-wing higher education will be quietly disowned and disregarded…

    Ah, such sunny optimism! If/when the misgovernor’s presidential campaign goes down the drain, he will still have through the end of 2026 to wreak his revenge upon the “woke”, with a gerrymandered state legislature empowering him and climate disasters fostering the chaos on which fascism thrives. I think it more likely we’ll have to add a “domestic” column to the “failed state” list, with the F-state first and foremost.

  7. tacitus says

    If/when the misgovernor’s presidential campaign goes down the drain, he will still have through the end of 2026 to wreak his revenge upon the “woke”

    Oh, I don’t doubt that, but a shitty or failed right-wing version of New College will no longer serve any purpose in that effort, so they’d rather the public forget about that happened as they move on to their next target.

    DeSantis is term limited, but I wouldn’t put it past him to primary Marco Rubio or Rick Scott at some point in the future, or for the Florida legislature to abolish term limits at this point, quite frankly. If it worked for Putin…

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    tacitus @ # 8: … a shitty or failed right-wing version of New College will no longer serve any purpose …

    I think you misunderestimate the GOP’s craving for a “Hillsdale of the South” – certainly they won’t feel inhibited about flinging millions of taxpayers’ dollars at that effort. (Regent, Liberty, & BJU have kinda lost their sparkle, yaknowwhutImean?)

    To change Florida’s gubernatorial term limits would require a constitutional amendment, a pretty difficult task by 2026 (particularly for the benefit of conspicuously failed candidate). Rubio’s current term runs through 2029, so I’d say that seat remains beyond DeathSentence’s attention span and political shelf life. Scott will (presumably) run again in ’26, so going after his seat may fit your scenario – but I would expect him, unless weakened by some new major mess-up, to swat the misgovernor like a fly.

  9. acroyear says

    My freshman year (JMU entering ’88) we were in the Howard Johnson’s across the interstate. While it was annoying for some (and the pool was closed off to us, for insurance reasons) many liked it for the large lawn and relative isolation.

    unlike this New College situation, the school did support busses that came on a 15 minute cycle (supporting 2 off-campus housing developments as well) so it wasn’t necessary to take that mile and a half walk to where most of the classes were at the time.

    (eventually the school bought the HoJos, tore it down, and made it a supplemental parking lot)

  10. Allison says

    Many at the University of Florida have told me NC was created explicitly to drain off the “radicals” from the other state universities,

    This cannot be true.

    New College started out life as a private university, and was not part of the University of Florida system. (It was also very expensive.) As such, it wouldn’t have drained faculty or students from UF.

    It eventually (15 years later, per Wikipedia) had financial problems and agreed to be taken over by the University of South Florida.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Allison @ # 11: This cannot be true.

    Thanks for the fact-check. Alas, my informants (like many other progressive-minded faculty at the University of Florida under the last 20+ years of Republican governors) have moved on, so I can’t attempt to square what they told me and what you tell us.

    Per the NCF website, the state university system absorbed New College in 1975, so the motivations I heard about seem to fit that timeline pretty well – but I lack any documentation, so I fully concede what I posted @ # 6 amounts only to rumor.

  12. says

    But first, some good news! Enrollments are up.

    As I understand it, part of the draw of its being a small, selective honors college was that classes (in both academic senses) were small and people really got to know and work closely with their fellow students and professors.

    I recently read Eli Saslow’s 2018 Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist:

    Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show—already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.”

    Then he went to college. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black … white supremacist, radio host … New College student???” The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness of his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners—and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table—that Derek started to question the science, history, and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done.

    Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek Black’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature.

    I have my issues with it, but it’s worth reading. In any case, there’s no way DeSantis and the other racists in Florida didn’t see the school as dangerous after this. They very much want to destroy it. Great move by Hampshire College to get some of these kids.

    Axios – “Notable alum protests New College of Florida takeover”: “…Derek Black, who was heir apparent to lead the country’s white nationalist movement until transformational experiences at New College enlightened him, bashed the move on Twitter yesterday as news of the takeover spread through the small school’s students, faculty and alumni….”

    They quote his tweet from January:

    I too once sought racist refuge in classics at New College! It turned out it’s not the white power weapon these folks think.

    I hope current classicists and medievalists recognize the power and responsibility they have, being named so publicly by this attempted purge.

  13. says

    By the way, from the book (p. 177), talking about the night of Obama’s re-election in 2012:

    [Donald] Trump mourned Obama’s election on Fox news and then tweeted, “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”

    Almost like he was foretelling things to come…

  14. whheydt says

    The better part of 20 years ago, a Cambridge U. graduate student in Comp. Sci. noted two things. First, he’d been put to work reading the resumes of prospective incoming Comp. Sci. majors and observed that their actual knowledge of computers was poor and getting worse. Second, the number of applicants was dropping rather rapidly. So he got together with some friends and fellow students to devise a plan to do something about this. His idea was to design a cheap, basic, single board computer that could be handed out to–perhaps a couple of hundred–prospective students the year before they would be applying for the program. Then come back a year later and say, “Okay…what did you do with it?”
    As it happens, word of his plans got around and quite a large number of people took an interest in the project and when they were actually able to make and sell the single board computers, sales went far, far beyond their wildest expectations.
    That’s how the Raspberry Pi was born. It was launched in 2012 and the latest number I’ve heard is that they’ve sold over 45 million of them. And–oh, yes–Cambridge Comp. Sci. applications grew substantially.
    So…there’s more than one way to salvage a declining academic program. Some methods are even profitable.

  15. says

    Daily Kos – “DeSantis takeover has left Florida’s New College in shambles as new year starts”:

    …The interim president’s goals include increasing attendance and building an athletics program, and he’s doing both at once by bringing in a large number of new athletes. New College admitted 100 student athletes for this fall despite having no real athletic facilities and not being a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. For some reason, 70 of the athletes are baseball players. In contrast, the University of Florida’s Division 1 team has 37 players. It’s really not clear what the plan is for sports at New College: “Women’s basketball and men’s soccer had only one athlete apiece, while women’s soccer had six athletes enrolled, according to public records,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Stephen Walker reported last month.

    The athletes got a disproportionate number of $10,000 merit scholarships, Walker reported, while contributing to the incoming class having lower GPAs and SAT and ACT scores than the previous year’s class. [Michelle Goldberg in the NYT] added,

    … last week, New College’s interim president, Richard Corcoran, a longtime Republican politician who served as DeSantis’s education commissioner, sent a memo to faculty members, proposing new majors in finance, communications and sports psychology, “which will appeal to many of our newly admitted athletes.” As Amy Reid, a New College professor of French who directs the gender studies department, said when I spoke to her last weekend, “Tell me how sports psychology, finance and communications fits with a classical liberal arts model.”

    …There will be no food served at the hotel and no cooking is allowed in rooms—students will have to go to campus for meals. No more than two people will be allowed to be in a room at a time, so forget about study groups. All so athletes can get the best New College has to offer.

    Why the big focus on athletes? It’s pretty clear they won’t be raising New College’s national profile by bringing home trophies anytime soon. Goldberg got part of the answer from Rufo: The athletes are more heavily male than New College’s recent student population, and he sees a more male student population as likely a more conservative one.

    “This is a wildly out-of-balance student population, and it caused all sorts of cultural problems,” said Rufo. Having so many more women than men, he said, turned New College into “what many have called a social justice ghetto.” The new leadership, he said, is “rebalancing the ratio of students” in the hopes of ultimately achieving gender parity.

    This is literally affirmative action for male athletes as a partisan move. And Rufo, DeSantis, and their gang will continue to talk about how they’re trying to elevate learning and remove ideology from Florida colleges and universities. Absolutely nothing these people say should ever be believed—except when Rufo goes all B-movie villain and decides to brag about exactly what he’s doing….

    This is a public college.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    New College of Florida Embraces Affirmative Action for Men (reposted from

    While the college has typically been around two-thirds female, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that the male population has skyrocketed in the incoming class—increasing a staggering 23 percentage points to now comprise 54 percent of the class. …

    Previously the school had no formal athletics program. Now, they make up over a third of incoming freshmen. … baseball—which alone comprises 60 percent of incoming student-athletes—is a male-only sport. …

    As the male population at New College has increased, admitted students’ academic performance has also declined. The incoming class has lower test scores and GPAs than last year’s incoming freshman—with the average ACT score down to 24 from 27 last year. Student-athletes scored a paltry 22 on average, yet received merit scholarships at a higher rate than other students.

    … New College’s response—to engineer a more conservative institution by reducing female participation in it—is inherently in conflict with the strong defense of meritocracy and opposition to affirmative action espoused by Rufo and his allies.

  17. S maltophilia says

    In 1972 I was accepted to New College and there was a decent financial aid package. However, they had a stated policy that aid recipients were expected not to have cars. I couldn’t see how to afford flying back and forth to DFW for summer and other breaks or hitchhiking through redneck territory 4-6 times a year, so I went to college elsewhere. I don’t know if that policy is still in effect, but it would figure that financial aid students can live off campus and take their chances of being flattened.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Maybe the muskrat can build a hyperloop between the University and appropriate housing facilities?
    BTW as Trump University proved, you don’t need gimmicks like ‘faculty’.