SARASOTA, Fla. — Before a less than packed board room, New College of Florida's Board of Trustees selected a familiar face to lead the college permanently.
In a 10-2 vote. the board chose interim President Richard Corcoran to be the school's permanent president. The move means Corcoran can start negotiating for a presidential contract and annual compensation package that could surpass $1 million.
Corcoran is expected to continue what he began in February when the school’s board chose him to temporarily lead New College through a controversial state overhaul.
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That transition was prompted by what Gov. Ron DeSantis described as a war on woke in higher education.
But on a campus mired in recent clashes, Corcoran’s selection didn’t come without strife.
"This was expected, we knew it was a farce," said Shanon Ingls, an alumnus of the school who didn’t want Corcoran to be the school’s full-time replacement.
Hours before the board’s vote, a few dozen students gathered on campus to protest the college’s ongoing culture shift and Corcoran being selected for the permanent position. Corcoran was one of three finalists vying for to be president of the small liberal arts college along the Sarasota Bay.
One student we spoke with painted Corcoran's face on a walking mat to show her disapproval of him.
"He’s walking all over us so we’re going to walk back. This is a way we can show that disrespect he's put towards our community," fourth-year student Emma Curtis said.
One month before Corcoran was first selected as interim, DeSantis appointed six new conservative members to the school’s Board of Trustees as part of a culture shift at a school that had widely embraced progressive thought and the LGBTQ community.
Since then, change at New College has been swift and, critics say, politically motivated.
The former president of the school was fired, the college’s diversity office was eliminated, gender neutral bathroom signs were taken down and, this summer, the new board voted to start dissolving the school’s gender studies program.
On Tuesday, during the public comment section of the board meeting, less than a dozen members of the public, mostly students or alumni, made their case over why Corcoran should not be selected. Many of them cited trust issues with Corcoran and what they described as a clear political agenda as reasons.
But most of the board’s 12 trustees praised his leadership at the school during a "chaotic and turbulent time."They also cited his political connections as helping the school move forward.
Corcoran is a GOP heavyweight, a former lawmaker and speaker of the Florida House. He’s also a close friend and ally of DeSantis, and served as state education commissioner during the governor’s first term.
Corcoran was not in the boardroom during the final vote and, according to a New College spokesperson, was not available for comment after the vote.
"He has demonstrated the unique kind of character that we need. The problem at New College, which is really the problem at so many of our universities is that there is an ethos of, 'go along to get along,' not rocking the boat, not disturbing the status quo, and conforming to any of the ideological pressures from within and also from without," said board member Christopher Rufo, who has made headlines for sparring online with critics of the state’s New College transition.
In the end, it was Corcoran’s political history and connections that seemed to matter most to a board focused on carrying out the Governor’s vision by continuing to move New College in a whole new direction.