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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

DeSantis' New College trustee appointments get the OK from a Senate committee

Woman walking next to New College sign
Chris O'Meara
A student makes her way past the sign at New College on Jan. 20, 2023, in Sarasota.

It came amid questions from some Democrats about some of the appointees. They still need to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Amid an effort by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders to shake up New College of Florida, a Senate committee on Wednesday supported the appointments of seven members to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Six of the new members were appointed in January as DeSantis installed conservatives on the board.

That group included Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and Matthew Spalding, a professor at Hillsdale College, a Michigan-based school that is prominent among conservatives.

Spalding also is dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale’s Washington, D.C., campus.

In addition to the six members appointed by DeSantis, the state university system’s Board of Governors in January appointed Ryan Anderson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics & Public Policy Center, to the New College board.

The Republican-controlled Senate Education Postsecondary Committee on Wednesday voted to confirm the appointees. None of the trustees attended the meeting.

Ultimately, the full Senate would need to confirm them.

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said she had numerous questions that she would have wanted to ask the trustees, particularly related to Rufo.

“I’m not even really clear that he lives in the state of Florida. He certainly has very, very concerning views on the LGBT community, critical race theory, all of the things that we’ve talked a lot about,” Book said.

Information about Rufo on the committee’s agenda listed his home as Olympia, Wash.

Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, defended the appointments, pointing to what he described as lagging performance by New College.

“This is not a private institution, this is a publicly funded school that has issues in its rankings. And we all look at rankings … and we want the university system in the state of Florida to be top. And we owe that to the taxpayers and we owe that to the students. So a change is absolutely necessary, that we move in a different direction,” Perry said.

The revamped Board of Trustees in February removed former New College President Patricia Okker and replaced her on an interim basis with Richard Corcoran, a Republican former House speaker and state education commissioner.

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