DeSantis appoints anti-CRT activist to New College of Florida board, seeks to alter school curriculum

by | Jan 6, 2023

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six to the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees on Friday 
  • All six appointees hold conservative backgrounds, including Christopher Rufo, who inserted anti-Critical Race Theory into mainstream discourse, and Matthew Spalding, who works in Constitutional Government at Hillsdale College
  • The Governor’s office told The Capitolist that the New College of Florida has been “completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning”
  • Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz went further, claiming that he hopes New College of Florida, a liberal-leaning school, becomes “Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South”

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist best known for his criticisms of Critical Race Theory, to New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees, among five others.

Alongside Rufo, DeSantis appointed Matthew Spalding, Dr. Charles R. Kesler, Dr. Mark Bauerlein, Debra Jenks, and Jason “Eddie” Speir. All six individuals hold conservative backgrounds.

Spalding currently works as the Kirby Professor in Constitutional Government at Hillsdale College, one of the nation’s most conservative higher education institutions, also serving as the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College’s Washington, D.C., campus.

The appointments drew immediate shock responses, given the New College of Florida’s liberal leanings.

The university’s publicly-posted value statement reads that it aims to provide a “just, diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.” The statement continues by outlining that the institution “seeks a balance between recognizing and celebrating difference” and “ensuring that historically marginalized and oppressed groups are not experiencing trauma and harm.”

Political opponents of DeSantis’ were quick to lambast the appointments, claiming that DeSantis is using the newly-appointed conservative members as a way to sway or influence the curriculum and policy decisions made within the university.

Democrat Representative Anna Eskamani took to Twitter shortly after the announcement, where she claimed that DeSantis made the appointments for his own political gain.

“DeSantis just appointed a political propagandist to the [New College of Florida] Board Of Trustees,” said Eskamani. “DeSantis is destroying higher education in Florida for his own political gain. It’s disgusting, bad for our workforce development & everyone — faculty, admin, alumni, students — need to fight back.”

The Governor’s office, however, told The Capitolist that critics may not be entirely wrong in their assumptions.

“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,” DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement to The Capitolist. “In particular, New College of Florida has reached a moment of critical mass, wherein low student enrollment and other financial stresses have emerged from its skewed focus and impractical course offerings.”

Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz went even further, stating that he hopes that New College of Florida will “become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South.”

Rufo garnered public notoriety after he helped usher anti-Critical Race Theory rhetoric into the mainstream political discourse. According to the Governor’s office, Rufo’s research and forms of activism have resulted in legislation in fifteen states.

“My ambition is to help the new board majority into a classical liberal arts institution. We are recapturing higher education,” said Rufo on Twitter following his appointment.

By definition, Critical Race Theory considers the idea that racism is systemic, in that laws, policies, regulations, and even court decisions create and continue historical racial prejudices in the United States.

Critical Race Theory’s insertion into the lexicon of modern politics, particularly among those in the GOP, has led to an attempted reformation of curricula in classrooms across the country.

From elementary school to postsecondary institutions, politicians have made attempts to prevent elements of Critical Race Theory from being taught.

In a more Florida-centric view, DeSantis passed the ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ which lists a series of race-related concepts and says it would constitute discrimination if students are subjected to instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates or compels” them to believe the concepts.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law this year, though its enforcement was struck down by an Obama-appointed judge who referred to the measure as “positively dystopian.”

The bill remains in legal limbo but is expected to be redrafted in the upcoming Legislative Session.

DeSantis’ appointments come just two days after his administration announced that all State University System members are required to report expenditures and resources utilized for campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.

The memo was sent to Commissioner Diaz as well as State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, outlining a document to provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities that might fall under the categorization of diversity, equity and inclusion, or Critical Race Theory.

As part of the process, each institution must provide a description of the activity or program, faculty positions involved with such events, the total spending towards the listed occasion, and of the total amount, a specification of how much was extracted from state-provided funding.


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