Total Victory: DeSantis’ “New Florida College” Triumph Is the Blueprint for Recapturing “Woke” Institutions Across the Country

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In his long career as a conqueror, the greatest victory Napoleon Bonaparte ever won didn’t involve a battle at all.

In the fall of 1805, Napoleon’s French Empire went to war with both Austria and Russia in the War of the Third Coalition. Faced with the danger of a vast combined Austro-Russian army overwhelming him, Napoleon had to move fast, and did. His army, carrying almost no supplies, attacked Austrian territory at the peak of the harvest, living off the land and moving at lightning speed. Marching 200,000 men 500 miles in a mere 40 days, Napoleon entirely surrounded the Austrian army before his foe, General Mack, even knew where the French were. In six weeks, it was all over: Mack and his entire army surrendered without even fighting a real battle.

We won’t test you with more historical minutiae, but the key principle is easily deduced, and it applies to far more than just warfare: in any battle, whether military or political, speed, surprise, and decisiveness matter far more than mere strength. And at this very moment, Ron DeSantis and Chris Rufo in Florida are putting on a masterclass of this principle in action.

The domain of battle is education.

A month ago, nobody had ever heard of the New College of Florida, a tiny, “progressive” public college in Sarasota. Of the roughly 340,000 people in the State University System of Florida, the New College has fewer than 700 of them.

Now, the school is a national news story, because DeSantis’s administration is demonstrating that zombie left-wing institutions do not have to live forever. They can be torn down and remade, or defunded, if only there is sufficient will to act.

Despite its name, the New College isn’t new. It was founded in the 1960s, and until this month was a premier example of a taxpayer-funded university that was institutionally far-left down to its core. Like many such schools, it has a novel structure: instead of grades, students get written evaluations, and every semester students sign a “contract” to pass a certain number of classes. Students also have to complete an undergraduate thesis. Of course, the school puts a ridiculous emphasis on the buzzwords you’d expect these days: diversity, inclusion, equity, and so on. The New York Times itself bluntly described New College as Florida’s “most progressive” public college… a funny label to affix to a taxpayer-backed institution that is supposed to be politically neutral.

But the label won’t be around for long. In early January, out of nowhere, DeSantis announced a sweeping series of appointments to the New College’s board. In one day, six new trustees were named. Among them were Rufo, who should need no introduction, as well as Hillsdale government professor Matthew Spalding, and Claremont Review of Books editor Charles Kesler.

Mere days after his appointment, Rufo published a piece for City Journal laying out sweeping planned changes for the school:

Governor DeSantis has tasked us with something that has never been done: institutional recapture. If we are successful, the effort can serve as a model for other states.

My proposals include redesigning the curriculum to align with the classical model; abolishing DEI programs and replacing them with “equality, merit, and colorblindness” principles; adopting the Kalven statement on institutional neutrality; restructuring the administration and academic departments; recruiting new faculty with expertise in the classical liberal arts tradition; and establishing a graduate school for training teachers in classical education.

[City Journal]

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the radical possibility that the new board of trustees might demote the New College’s president to an interim role. All of a day later, the blow had already landed, even harder than imagined:

The New College Board of Trustees has voted to terminate the contract of President Patricia Okker.

Trustees also voted to appoint former Florida House speaker and Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as interim president.

Corcoran will not be available until March; trustees also approved naming Okker’s chief of staff, Dr. Bradley Thiessen, to the position until Corcoran can assume the office.

Bam. The critical blow was struck, with minimal buildup and decisive impact. There is no pretense of “working with” a leader who will obviously be hostile, no sham review period or drawn-out consideration.

This is not a gradual cultural change. This is not a “long march through the institutions.” This is a taking by storm, and it is being made clear immediately. Local write-ups of the change of power have repeatedly emphasized how rapid and stunning the change has been:

Well after the scheduled 5 p.m. end of the meeting, the board moved to fire Okker effective immediately.

“Their plan includes my termination as president,” she announced, citing social media posts from two trustees in recent days. She added: “The support I feel in this room is tremendous, but I’m going to let you down.”

The audience booed, some urging her not to leave. Some students broke into tears, others stood and left the room.

“That was not how I thought this was going to go,” Okker said.

People lingered in the overflow room, incredulous.

“Where were the rest of the board members?” one woman shouted.

If there is any disappointment to be found so far, it’s that the new regime at New College has not moved quickly enough. Apparently caught off-guard by claims that New College’s “Office of Equity and Inclusion” has responsibilities besides DEI, the board settled for requesting a “report” rather than abolishing the office immediately. That was unfortunate. To demand a “report” is a classic bureaucratic punt designed to sap momentum and delay action, and the tactic ought to be avoided as much as possible.

But a few mistakes during a novel venture are to be expected, and fortunately, DeSantis chose well in making his first target a tiny school with no brand or name recognition. DeSantis’s conquest is clearly a test run, with lower stakes, executed against a small and obscure school with little institutional power to resist.

DeSantis recognized a reality that has long been true, but the right has been inexcusably sluggish to act on: In a world where academia is absolutely consumed with politics, a seat on a public college’s board of trustees is a political position, and needs to be treated like one. Republicans have (mostly) learned not to appoint random people as judges. Board of regents seats should be treated with the same level of import. Of DeSantis’ new trustees, only one of them actually attended the New College. Most of them aren’t even from Florida. But so what? For the mission DeSantis has in mind, they are perfect.

But the best part? This is just one of many excellent things that Florida is doing, all at the exact same time. While Chris Rufo and Matthew Spalding go Shock and Awe on Woke U., Florida’s Board of Education scored a big win of its own when it rejected the College Board’s brand new AP African American Studies class as unsuited for Florida’s classrooms due to its espousal of critical race theory and other topics.

The NY Times:

Florida will not allow a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies to be offered in its high schools, stating that the course is not “historically accurate” and violates state law.

In a letter last week, the Florida Department of Education informed the College Board, which administers A.P. exams, that it would not include the class in the state’s course directory. Rigorous A.P. courses allow high school students to obtain credit and advanced placement in college.

“As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” the department’s office of articulation, which oversees accelerated programs for high school students, wrote on Jan. 12. In the future, should the College Board “be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion.”

Florida boasts such a large market for AP classes, and its move could have inspired similar actions from even more states, so rather than fighting DeSantis, the College Board almost immediately surrendered. In just a few weeks, the Board desperately put out a new framework for its African-American Studies class that stripped it of CRT, BLM, and other politically loaded topics.

Of course, “African American studies” is still a joke of a subject and inevitably politically toxic, so Florida should still reject the updated version. But even if it doesn’t, DeSantis’s show of force ensured the course is better than it would otherwise be.

And while all that is going on, in the Florida legislature, Republicans are planning the passage of universal school choice, allowing any student in the state to receive a state-funded voucher for private or home schooling. Helpless Democrats are stuck suggesting that, at the least, private schools receiving the vouchers should be barred from discriminating based on… hairstyle.

The Tallahassee Democrat:

A proposed massive expansion of Florida’s private school voucher program easily cleared its first House stop Thursday, despite drawing blistering criticism that it would drain billions of dollars of needed cash from public schools used by 2.9 million students.

Analysts estimate the “universal choice” plan backed by House Speaker Paul Renner could result in Florida steering $2.4 billion to private schools from public schools as early as next year, as even more students leave.

The legislation also would end a more than 9,000-student waiting list for special needs children seeking private school scholarships. And it would allow home-school parents to receive state dollars under the scholarship program, although that would be capped at the first 10,000 students into the program.

Efforts by Democrats Thursday to impose a cap on tuition increases at private schools participating in the program and another adding language to bar these schools from discriminating against students for sexual orientation, hair-style or ethnic origin were defeated by Republicans.

And in the midst of all that, on Tuesday DeSantis unveiled a whole host of other higher-education proposals which would affect all of the state’s massive public universities.

The Tampa Bay Times:

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced a package of major reforms to Florida’s higher education system, including tighter controls on faculty tenure, the establishment of “civics institutes” at three universities and prohibitions on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

DeSantis’ plan also would allow university boards of trustees and presidents to conduct reviews of tenured faculty members “at any time,” in addition to the periodic reviews that already take place.

He also proposes changes in standards and course content “to ensure higher education is rooted in the values of liberty and western tradition.”

DeSantis said all students graduating from Florida universities would be required to take general education courses that include “actual history and actual philosophy that has shaped western civilization.”

His plan would require schools to “prioritize graduating students with degrees that lead to high-wage jobs, not degrees designed to further a political agenda.”

Universal vouchers, weakening tenure, core curricula, CRT bans, and more: it’s all hitting, all at once. This may be one of the regime’s core ideological domains, yet there is a very real sense that they are caught off-guard and being overtaken by the sheer speed of events. By the time the New York Times got around to covering the New College story in any detail at all, the coup was already nearly over.

But rather than give the regime a chance to collect itself and figure out what is going on, there is a chance to make the momentum even stronger. Every state in America is holding a legislative session this spring. Now presents a golden opportunity to grab as much territory on education as possible, while Florida leads the way. There is real added power in many states all taking action at once: left-wing activist groups have their resources stretched, states are more resistant to any private-sector “don’t rock the boat” pressure, and courts find it tougher to justify rolling it all back.

While two states have already passed universal school choice this spring, and others are planning it, every red state should be setting that as an objective for this legislative session. But even more importantly, concerned citizens nationwide must quickly learn how to adapt the New College plan to other publicly-controlled universities across the country. 

Right now, in far too many cases, publicly-appointed university boards appear to governors to provide merely a chance to reward donors or simply provide some kind of achievement award to illustrious citizens. Consider the board of regents for the University of Tennessee, a school we have picked on before. Of the board’s twelve members, five are current or former C-suite executives at major companies:  There’s Amy Miles of Regal Entertainment, Bill Rhodes III of AutoZone, Donnie Smith of Tyson Foods, and in the chairman’s job is John Compton, former president of PepsiCo.

READ MORE: Republican Lawmakers Can Easily End the Anti-White Crisis Unfolding at University of Tennessee, So Why Won’t They?

We is not singling out any particular member of U-Tennessee’s board for criticism (at least, not yet). But the board, collectively, sat around while the university drew up a radical anti-white “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” plan for its flagship Knoxville campus.

Being asleep at the wheel for this sort of thing might have been excusable fifteen years ago. But today, well over half a decade into “peak wokeness,” it is inexcusable.

If Tennessee’s Republicans care about preserving their state and institutions from the worst woke rot, than paying closer attention to the composition of the Tennessee Board of Regents is critical. Granted, many obstacles still remain. The list of legal requirements for the board is quite long: Regents must come from each of Tennessee’s congressional districts, there must be an equal balance of the sexes, at least three regents must be from each party, one must be a community college professor, blah blah blah.

Of course, a novel solution exists for problems like this: laws can be changed! And if Tennessee or Idaho or Oklahoma alter their laws to make it easier to roll back institutional wokeness at public universities, is the public’s response more likely to be dismay, or support? And even if the public doesn’t approve, how likely is it to swing an election?

Universities are politicized. Boards of trustees are by extension political bodies. It’s time red states acted accordingly.

The moment is right, and the issue is right. By taking power into their own hands, GOP-controlled states can turn Ron DeSantis’s education offensive into a nationwide revolution.


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