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‘Hillsdale Of The South’: DeSantis Appointees Are Restoring Florida’s Public Liberal Arts College To Classical Roots

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After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week he was appointing six new members to the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees, leftists have gone berserk.

The small liberal arts school in Sarasota, Florida, is regarded as the most left-leaning college in the state. Functioning as Florida’s honors college, it has just slightly more than 700 students and 90 full-time faculty members. In recent years, it has embraced critical race theory-type initiatives and expanded its “gender studies” program to include a “gender diversity center” and “queer studies.”

By appointing enough new trustees to give the 13-member board a conservative majority, however, DeSantis hopes to transform the school using the same classical education model employed by Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in southern Michigan whose core curriculum emphasizes the classical texts of the Western tradition.

“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,” DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier told National Review.

DeSantis’ appointments include Charles Kesler, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, a conservative literary publication; Mark Bauerlein, a professor emeritus at Emory University and editor at the ecumenical journal First Things Magazine; Matthew Spalding, vice president of the graduate school of government at Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C.; and Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and conservative investigative journalist.

The conservative majority intends to transform the New College by restructuring its administration and academic departments, as well as creating a new core curriculum and pedagogy. And the left is livid.

The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg condescendingly writes that “DeSantis Allies Plot the Hostile Takeover of a Liberal College,” characterizing the new majority’s efforts as an “assault” on “academic freedom” that penalizes every professor “whose worldview is at odds with the Republican Party.” The Daily Beast laments “They Were Loving College. Then Ron DeSantis Got Involved” (the article quotes an embattled 22-year-old New College sophomore, who, upon hearing the news, “got really sad and then just, like, laid down”). Suffice it to say, the media hit pieces (and angry tweets) keep coming.

Despite the media onslaught, the new trustees remain undaunted. Rufo told Goldberg “We anticipate that this is going to be a process that involves conflict.”

And in a statement provided to The Federalist, Spalding rejected the idea that the conservative board members are going to remake the New College into a cookie-cutter version of Hillsdale.

“As a professor, dean, and vice president at a successful liberal arts college, my focus is on the work at hand: restoring New College’s ‘distinctive mission’ as the ‘residential liberal arts honors college’ of Florida,” he said. “I appreciate the complimentary nods to Hillsdale College, but we are not going to serve New College’s mission by remaking it into a carbon copy of another institution.”

Instead, Spalding is concerned with bringing the New College back to its roots as a traditional liberal arts school:

In the liberal arts, the college — which means a partnership, one between students and faculty — works together and comes into conversation with great thinkers and writers who’ve asked timeless questions about human purpose, about the good, and justice, and how to live well. The very aim of liberal arts education is to liberate the mind from current fads and popular ideologies by inviting students to address these questions in pursuit of the truth about what it means to be fully human. That pursuit transcends contemporary politics. Such an education teaches one how to think, not what to think.

Current New College students (and their wannabe defenders in the press) should welcome such a refreshing approach to learning, after enduring the constant onslaught of leftist propaganda and being told what to think.


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