The New College of Florida board of trustees voted to hire Richard Corcoran as the school’s long-term President.
While Corcoran’s hire drew strong objections from board members representing the New College student body and faculty, 10 trustees supported Corcoran. That included all members of the board appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year in a move widely seen as an ideological takeover of the campus.
Ron Christaldi, a DeSantis appointee but one who served before the dramatic shift in the board, was named as the board liaison to negotiate a contract with Corcoran. Any agreement remains subject to oversight by the Florida Board of Governors, and will come back to trustees to agree on terms.
Corcoran, a former Florida House Speaker, has long been seen as a conservative supporter of higher education reform. In his role as Interim President of the school, he successfully lobbied the Legislature to budget millions for improvements to the school and scholarships for prospective students.
He has also pushed for the school’s first significant expansion into intercollegiate sports, including offering athletic scholarships. A day before his permanent hire, the state university announced New College has been accepted by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics into the Sun Conference effective July next year.
But rancor about the takeover of the school clearly continues to divide the New College community, both the existing student and faculty and the alumni community for the school.
At the trustee meeting, that most clearly was demonstrated by dissenting votes by Grace Keenan, President of the New College Student Alliance, and Dr. Amy Reid, Chair of the New College of Florida Faculty. Keenan supported University of Central Florida professor Tyler Fisher, while Reid favored former Ohio Dominican University President Robert Gervasi, ensuring each finalist selected by a search committee received one vote.
Keenan and Reid both voiced tension from their constituencies. Keenan said many students at the school feel Corcoran has done little to meet with and ease concerns of students about the shift at the school.
“He (Corcoran) had not come to speak to the students to open himself up for a conversation about the presidential search his entire time as Interim President, yet Dr. Fisher did,” Keenan said.
Reid felt the entire selection process, partly disrupted by Hurricane Idalia, was not transparent and offered little chance for those with a stake in the school’s future to meet finalists.
“Bottom line, this is not how a successful search is structured,” she said. “Whether you’re hiring for a part time job, or whether you’re hiring a faculty member, or whether you’re searching for an executive, you always ensure that there are ample opportunities for the candidate to meet with and interact with different constituencies.”
But the bulk of trustees said Corcoran was the right person to lead the college at this time. Many said that bore out during the Legislative Session, when the experienced lawmaker secured funding that in the past has been vetoed by DeSantis or not funded at all.
Trustee Mark Bauerlein, an Emory University professor emeritus appointed by DeSantis this year, said the politics of the moment do matter.
“The reason that I would lean toward Interim President Corcoran is because of the special circumstances here, of Honors College, the external issues, the political issues, the contacts in Tallahassee,” he said. “My choice would be Interim President Corcoran with an understanding that maybe a year from now, two years from now, a different profile might be a better selection as President.”
Chris Rufo, a trustee and close ally of DeSantis who has criticized higher education institutions nationwide for being too “woke,” said putting Corcoran in power would set an example for academia everywhere.
“We now have a homogenous higher education system, and at New College we’re trying to break out of that and do something radically different,” he said. “As I see it, our primary and our core mission really is to reestablish public authority over the public university system, which has broken the social contract with the public.”