Tiny Public College Known for ‘Free Thinkers’ Is Latest Target for DeSantis

Residents of the quiet campus experience a pervasive sense of insecurity. Should they stay or flee? Will the type of students drawn to the New College fundamentally change? Are young faculty members getting the tenure they are intended for? Will the new board or president lay off employees en masse, as one of the new trustees suggested?

“Everything that happened was very disruptive,” said Elizabeth C. Leininger, an associate professor of biology, noting that the spring semester started a day before the Jan. 31 board meeting. “It’s like we get a hurricane here in Florida and everyone’s busy.”

There is no denying that New College faces challenges. Enrollment had declined by last year. Its dormitories are moldy, its labs outdated. There are few activities outside of the classroom. In reviews published on, a college ranking website, current and former students criticized rundown facilities, a lack of structure, and in some cases what they described as student obsession with identity politics.

The college performs poorly on state metrics — like the number of undergraduate degrees in high-demand fields and the percentage of graduates earning at least $30,000 a year after graduation — designed for giant universities with economies of scale that make the school easy does not have .

Still, unproven claims by Mr. DeSantis and his allies that New College students are being indoctrinated by far-left professors have offended students, faculty, parents and alumni who feel misrepresented. Many said the school takes in young people who may not fit elsewhere — well-read children, bullied children, children with disabilities, queer children — and requires that they be driven.

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That attracts a self-selected group of young adults, many of them undeniably progressive and LGBTQ, who are drawn to the existing student body, students, parents, alumni and faculty said. But that doesn’t mean that what’s taught in class necessarily aligns with students’ views, they added.

Joshua Epstein, who is 17 and will graduate next year after earning college credits in high school, said he became more conservative at New College. He praised professors who teach many viewpoints and encourage students to make their own judgments. He changed his major from political science to quantitative economics with hopes of becoming a corporate lawyer or investment banker.


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