New College of Florida facing a ‘dumpster fire’ start to the academic year

“The administration removed me from my dorm room so athletes could be there,” said Marshall Bustamante, a fourth-year student.

With the fall semester beginning on Monday at New College of Florida, it’s the start of a new academic year like no other.

The new-look Board of Trustees Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed in January ushered in a new era at New College, a shift so dramatic the board ousted its sitting president. But the swath of changes it’s implementing has created a chaotic start to the fall semester. Upperclassmen were pushed into off-campus hotels, and teachers have left in droves.

“Just before I came to this meeting, I received word that one more faculty member in biology is leaving,” said Dr. Amy Reid, a member of the school’s Board of Trustees, according to CNN. “That’s going to make it a challenge for students to complete their areas of studies here.”

The messy upheaval at New College of Florida is borne out of the school’s two new bold directions: Taking a more conservative approach to higher education and prioritizing intercollegiate athletics.

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When New College ousted former president Patricia Okker and invited Richard Corcoran, a former Republican official, as interim president, the college immediately began adopting principles close to DeSantis’ agenda on higher education.

The college has dissolved its DEI office, denied five professors of tenure and is now making moves to eliminate its gender studies major.

“The New College Board of Trustees is succeeding in its mission to eliminate indoctrination and re-focus higher education on its classical mission,” DeSantis said in a press release.

A mass exodus of faculty has ensued. Nicholas Clarkson, a gender studies professor, quit upon hearing her program was the college’s next target. Dr. Reid estimates that almost 40% of New College’s faculty have left this year, describing the faculty and student turnover as a “brain drain.”

Facing a dearth of instructors, classes were getting canceled within a month of the semester beginning, leaving students scrambling to finish their studies. “Nobody wants to be the object of a hostile takeover,” she said. “No one wants to live through a siege.”

Corcoran calls the claims of class cancelations inaccurate. Screenshots capturing New College’s Office of the Registrar notifying students of two different classes being canceled prove otherwise.

“It’s a little messy, kind of like a dumpster fire right now in terms of administration,” said Chai Leffler, a fourth-year student. “At the end of the day, I want to get my degree.”

Most of Leffler’s teachers have resigned, and he’s resorted to asking faculty outside of his urban studies major to sponsor his thesis, CNN reports.

Student-athletes first, upperclassmen second?

As shaky as course offerings and teacher availability might seem, the school has enrolled 64 more freshmen this fall than last year, raising total enrollment to about 800, according to a university spokesman. A little under half of them are newly recruited student-athletes.

On brand with Corcoran’s strategy to boost enrollment via intercollegiate athletic programs, the school has hired a new coach and athletic director to kickstart its new baseball program, which boasts a 70-man roster.

“I do have sympathy for what’s going on, and I know change is a hard thing, and I know a lot of people probably don’t like the changes, but we wouldn’t be able to come here and be doing school if it wasn’t for the athletics,” said Kailyn Posey of Jacksonville, a freshman soccer player, according to ABC Action News. “So, I think athletics is a really good opportunity for a lot of students.”

The sudden rise in student-athletes has created a housing shortage that has displaced New College’s legacy students. “The administration removed me from my dorm room so athletes could be there,” said Marshall Bustamante, a fourth-year student.

New College of Florida decided to move all student-athletes into the same dorm. Consequently, upperclassmen previously living there were reassigned to the Pei residential complex just weeks before the start of the semester—a facility that months ago an engineering report flagged for mold, mildew and cracked infrastructure, according to WUSF. As a result, upperclassmen have instead been split between two off-campus hotels, one of which is four miles away, a distance students claim is too far from campus.

While Corcoran wages the inaction by the previous administration to address the report as a gross malfeasance in previous leadership, WUSF reports the college did request the money from the state to fix it, but it never received the funding.

Despite the surge in student-athletes and its consequences on New College’s traditional student body, the college has yet to gain approval to play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), according to ABC Action News.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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