Ron DeSantis Appoints Chris Rufo Head Of Slaying Woke Heathens At Florida College


New College of Florida sounds like a pretty cool place to get an undergraduate education, what with its design-your-own-degree options and loads of interdisciplinary classes. The Sarasota college, built partly on the former estate of circus guy George Ringling, doesn’t do letter grades or grade-point averages; instead, as the Source of All Knowledge explains,

At the start of each semester, students negotiate a contract with their faculty adviser, specifying their courses of study and expectations for the semester. At the completion of the term, the academic adviser compares the student’s performance with the requirements defined in the contract, and determines whether the student has “passed” the contract, or not. Among other requirements, completing seven contracts is a prerequisite to graduation by the college.

The school’s website announces that New College is a “community of free thinkers, risk takers, and trailblazers.” New College’s knitting club is called “Anarchy Deathsticks,” and I am unironically in love. Think of something like a Reed College in Oregon or The Evergreen State in Washington; like Evergreen, it’s a state school, with relatively affordable in-state tuition, and in 2001, it was designated Florida’s liberal arts honors college.

New College is one of those schools where nerd culture is so aggressively embraced that the school’s athletic mascot is simply the “Empty Set,” as in the mathematical symbol:

{ }

The constitution for the school’s Student Alliance actually states that the organization would recognize “{ }” as the official mascot, but that blank was never filled in. It being the ’60s, students adopted the “Empty Set” as an ironic middle finger to the very idea of getting all het up over college athletics, in the same spirit as some other schools’ anti-mascots. So eat your hearts out, UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, Evergreen Geoducks and Scottsdale Community College Fightin’ Artichokes! You can’t hope to compete with the Null Set as a symbol of geeky-cool disdain for college sports

Revenge On The Nerds

Unfortunately, unlike Evergreen, New College is in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has made an eternal Culture War and attacks on the imaginary threat of “wokeness” and “liberal indoctrination” central to his plans to run for president in 2024. That’s why last week DeSantis appointed six prominent rightwing ideologues to New College’s 13-member board of trustees, and once they’re confirmed by the Florida Senate, they can get to work dismantling a fine little liberal arts college and turning it into a model of what DeSantis thinks higher education oughta do: eliminate “woke indoctrination” by pushing rightwing indoctrination.

DeSantis Propaganda Minister Communications Director Taryn Fenske explained it’s a simple matter of burning New College to the ground in order to save it, claiming,

Unfortunately, like so many colleges and universities in America, this institution has been completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning.

That’s a hell of a thing to say about a college that has always been guided by principles that the far Right hates; it was founded by Congregationalists as a private college in 1959 as a thumb in the eye to segregation, stipulating that “the “college shall be open to all students qualified for its academic program. Race, creed, national origin, or cultural status shall not be considered as a basis for denial of admission,” making it the first open-admissions college or university in the state. That’s from New College’s Diversity and Inclusion page, which we’re certain will be deleted soon enough.

The lies about New College continued in a statement from DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin, who lied, like a liar:

Starting today, the ship is turning around […] New College of Florida, under the Governor’s new appointees, will be refocused on its founding mission of providing a world-class quality education with an exceptional focus on the classics.

Its founding mission was never a focus on “the classics” or on churning out workers for corporate jobs. The school became part of the state system in the ’70s but has always maintained its reputation as a haven for openness and independent learning. While there are majors (or “areas of concentration”), students can design their own course of study, and frequently design their own independent studies in addition to (or in place of) taking regular classes.

I get the impression that trying to indoctrinate them would be about as successful as teaching a choir of cats to sing Handel’s Messiah. Students and alumni firmly reject the notion that New College is a hotbed of Marxism or any single ideology. (But then, they would, wouldn’t they, the progressive robots?)

Perhaps most tellingly, DeSantis’s Chief of Staff James Uthmeir said in a statement that the administration hopes New College “will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South,” a sentiment echoed by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz. Remember, when these fuckbirds talk about “classical education,” they mean works by dead white males, and not even all of them are going to be allowed.

Hillsdale, you’ll recall, is the rightwing fundamentalist college in Michigan whose president, Larry Arnn, chaired Donald Trump’s bizarre “1776 Commission.” Arnn also made news last year when he advised Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee that public school teachers “are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country” and that ” education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.” Hillsdale refuses any federal funding, including student financial aid, so it can remain free of tyrannical government civil rights regulations.

If You Want A Picture Of New College’s Future, Imagine A Handmaid’s Tale LARPer Stamping On Rainbow Flag — Forever

To return New College to the traditional conservative values and curriculum it never had, DeSantis appointed professional s—t-stirrer Christopher Rufo, the Seattle-based propagandist who did more than anyone else to drive the moral panic over “critical race theory” and then helped spearhead the ongoing panic over LGBTQ+ folks, as well.

Now that Rufo is in an actual government job, he’s thrilled at the chance to cleanse a real academic institution of wokeness. He won’t have to rely on stochastic terrorism anymore, and with his fellow new board members can lead an actual wrecking crew, with a mandate from the governor himself. On January 4, DeSantis’s office ordered all state colleges and universities to provide a “comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and and inclusion, and critical race theory,” and how much they cost, with an eye to cutting out all that nasty diversity.

After the appointment of the new board members Friday, Rufo posted a thread full of medieval war metaphors, explaining that “We are recapturing higher education,” and following that by promoting a video in which he called for “laying siege to the institutions.” Just in case anyone had missed the point, his next tweet proclaimed that:

Seems like a great job for a guy who’s made rightwing nihilism a business model. The other appointees include a rogue’s gallery mostly scraped from rightwing think tanks and private colleges, as the Washington Post (gift link) explains:

Charles R. Kesler, government professor at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, a publication of a conservative think tank in California called the Claremont Institute; Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University who is aligned with Trump; Eddie Speir, superintendent of a private Christian school in Florida called Inspiration Academy; and Debra Jenks, a graduate of New College who works as a mediation lawyer in Florida.

Welcome To Gilead State College

Rufo’s goals for remaking New College are certainly modest enough, as he tweeted in a list that also included a screenshot of DeSantis’s press release about the appointment, although the list is Rufo’s, not from the governor. Nothing deceptive there!

Here is our agenda for transforming New College of Florida:

Shift the university to a classical liberal arts model

Restructure the administration and mission statement

Create a new core curriculum and academic master plan

Abolish “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and replace it with “equality, merit, and colorblindness”

Restructure the academic departments to reflect the new pedagogical approach

Hire new faculty with expertise in constitutionalism, free enterprise, civic virtue, family life, religious freedom, and American principles

Establish a graduate school for training teachers in classical education

In short, a complete dismantling of everything that has made New College unique in Florida. We really can’t understate what a radical departure this will be; that stuff about revising the mission statement, creating a new core curriculum, and restructuring the academic departments doesn’t explicitly say the wrecking crew will institute traditional grading and eliminate independent study or contract-based assessment, but the writing is certainly on the wall — in shouty all-caps. They’ll probably dust off Trump’s 1776 Commission report and call that the core curriculum. The Gender Studies program will certainly be eliminated, and we shudder to think what’ll happen to the college’s library. Tenured faculty and academic freedom? There are ways to get around such Marxist conventions too.

Resistance Is Feudal

Can DeSantis and his fellow Crusaders get away with dismantling a real jewel of higher education and turning it into a secular version of Hillsdale? This admiring National Review article suggests that the Board of Trustees, which will now have a majority of DeSantis allies, has broad powers to do what Rufo’s calling for:

The BOT has the power to act without recommendation from the president of the college and to fire the president, currently Patricia Okker. It can also “adopt a strategic plan specifying institutional goals and objectives that are in alignment with the College’s mission.” On the matter of curricula, the BOT decides whether to establish or discontinue degree programs and course offerings, according to NCF bylaws. […] the new BOT appointees can, with their majority power, theoretically target progressive programming at the school.

This is not to say that New College students, faculty, and alumni are about to let the college be destroyed without a fight. They’re already mobilizing to protest and resist the rightwing takeover, and have set up a Twitter account to help organize against the Rufoization of New College. Whether they can actually overcome the trustees’ apparently unilateral power remains to be seen, though. Public opposition won’t matter to DeSantis, because after all, “educated elites” are the enemy and must be rooted out for real freedom to take hold.

And of course, DeSantis and Rufo don’t have to completely rebuild New College in the image of Hillsdale — it may be enough to demonize some of the students and faculty, mock the weirdos who major in Queer Studies, and maybe drive excitable patriots to attack some of them. Anything to excite the right. Needless to say, the coverage in rightwing media has been as rhapsodic as that in the National Review. Finally, a chance to fight back against the progressives who’ve ruined everything!

We’ll follow this story closely and keep you updated. If New College really is gutted and turned into a model of fascist control of higher education, public colleges and universities in other red states may face similar takeovers, no matter how much the schools and the public might object. As alert Wonkette operative “Bobathonic” noted, if the Empty Set prevails, it would be a Triumph of the Null.

The original post can be found on Wonkette

What do you think?