DeSantis Cronies Force College to Close Diversity Office

If Ron DeSantis has his way, what his board did at New College will happen at every public university in Florida.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Students during a Defend New College protest in Sarasota, Florida, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Octavio Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handpicked board of trustees voted to shutter New College’s diversity, equity, and inclusion office on Tuesday, the latest step in its hostile takeover of the school and a harbinger of what Florida’s entire university system could look like in a few months.

The board, which has a majority of DeSantis appointees, voted 9 to 3 to abolish the school’s Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence.


Christopher Rufo, a rightwing education activist and one of DeSantis’ appointees to the board, argued during the meeting that diversity efforts undermine fairness. “DEI goes against those principles because it restricts academic freedom, it degrades the rigor of scholarship, it treats people differently on the basis of skin color or other inborn identities,” he said during the board meeting.

DeSantis has sought to make an example of New College, a tiny liberal arts school with a mostly progressive student body that has a large LBGTQ community. Earlier this year he replaced most of the college’s board of trustees with right-wing loyalists who quickly moved to fire the college’s president, replace her with an ally, and push the liberal-leaning school hard to the right.

If DeSantis gets his way—and he likely will—diversity, equity and inclusion efforts will be eliminated from every public college and university in Florida. DeSantis is backing a bill that would cut funding from all of Florida’s DEI programs, as well as ban the teaching of critical race theory at the state’s public colleges and universities.


DeSantis said in a late January press conference that DEI programs will be defunded and “will wither on the vine” as a result.

The closure of New College’s DEI office will eliminate four full-time jobs, and will save the school about $250,000, according to documents presented during the board meeting.

That doesn’t even cover the difference in salaries between New College’s old president, which the board fired a month ago, and the person they appointed to replace her. Former New College President Patricia Okker’s annual salary was $305,000; interim President Richard Corcoran, a Republican former House Speaker and close DeSantis ally, is making $699,000 annually.

The move is the latest salvo in DeSantis’ fierce education culture war—an offensive he’s increased in as he gears up for a likely presidential run.

He recently blocked a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in Florida schools unless it cuts lessons he saw as controversial. His “don’t say gay” bill restricted discussion of LGBTQ issues and gender identity in Florida classrooms, and his recently passed “Stop WOKE” law, restricts how teachers can discuss race and diversity. Other DeSantis-backed legislation to rid schools of controversial books has led teachers in some counties to empty their classroom libraries for fear they could face felony charges. And other Florida Republicans are moving to ban gender studies from higher education as well—a bill DeSantis’ office hasn’t ruled out supporting.

About 300 people protested Tuesday’s New College board meeting, according to the Associated Press, a big turnout at a school with less than 700 students.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.