SARASOTA, Fla. — Reform at New College of Florida is not just targeted at academic programs and the character of the school but also at infrastructure.
Gov. Ron Desantis promised more money for higher education and some of it could go to New College.
Constructed in the 1960s, many of the school's buildings are in dire need of a makeover.
A good example of one of the dilapidated buildings in question is Hamilton Hall where students and staff have to go to other buildings to use the bathroom, according to one faculty member. A much-needed infusion of funds would help enact some of those repairs.
"The great thing about New College is that it probably sits on one of the nicest pieces of property out of any state university in the country, it's gorgeous, it's a wonderful campus, " Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican State House representative for Sarasota, said.
But that is not enough to boost student enrollment or retain students. Several of the old buildings have visible cracks and are falling apart and some dorm rooms are affected by mold. The state of facilities and infrastructure on the campus has also not helped the school present its best foot.
"Infrastructure on this campus is not great and that is a euphemism. We have buildings that are in disrepair, particularly for our student housing and some of our classrooms which do not have the latest technology," Assistant professor of theater and performance studies Dr. Diego Villada said.
"Unfortunately, I think that the hurricane probably only exacerbated several of the issues that were occurring because I recall living in the dorm," a Theater studies student, Jonathan Lee, said. "There were sanitation issues with the water being almost brown when I first turned it on."
DeSantis and the new leadership at New College of Florida have said their plan will turn the tide for enrollment and funding.
In his budget proposal, DeSantis has earmarked $15 million for faculty and student recruitment with $10 million in recurring funds annually.
A new interim president, Richard Corcoran, was appointed to drive a conservative-leaning restructuring and attract donor funding.
Corcoran is a former GOP House Speaker and former Education Secretary who is well-connected and has proven very efficient and resourceful at fundraising.
Supporters hope this would give the school, which has faced threats of closure over the past decade, a new lifeline.
"That's what we've tried to fix over the years is trying to bring back those dollars for capital projects that they failed to raise on the outside," Gruters said.
But the strings attached don't sit right with many on campus and they have been voicing their displeasure, especially over the board appointments and the recent firing of the school's president Dr. Patricia Okker.
"To get the $15 million but give away academic freedom does not seem fair in my opinion, and also that some of these changes seem draconian in their villainization of DEI," Villada said.
"Closing the DEI office does not make those of different marginalized identities and I oppose that and that is why I am putting on symbols of my won Latinx identity," he added. "I am Colombian and also I am wearing a lot more rainbow to let my LGBTQ students know who I am with, and I am with them."
"While the intentions are sort of muddied, I still can definitely agree that the school needs the funding," Lee said.
Gruters has allayed fears that the liberal arts school would turn into a hyper-conservative one and has characterized the plans as a re-balancing.
"Ultimately at the end of the day it is the students themselves that make up the university, it's the faculty, it's the alumni and they'll all still be there, it's their choice," Gruters said.
When Corcoran resumes, he would be tasked to not only help improve student enrollment, secure donor funding and help revamp the school's academic program offerings but also carry out the new vision of abolishing programs aimed at diversity, equity, and inclusion and the shift to a new conservative culture.
"Richard Corcoran and I, on occasion, have had a couple of issues but I don't think there's a better person to be a president of a university like New College in the entire country than Richard Corcoran. In fact, I encouraged him to apply for president before the existing president took office," Gruters said.
Corcoran will take over as interim president of the New College of Florida in March. The board of trustees' next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28.