College Hall at the New College of Florida in Sarasota. Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Despite concerns about accreditation, attendance, funding, ideology, religion and more, key senators on Monday recommended confirmation for seven members of the Board of Trustees of New College, a liberal arts public university in Florida that has been weathering a storm under an overhaul by the DeSantis administration.
The Senate’s Ethics and Elections committee voted 6-3 on the seven trustees — only three Democrats sit on the 10-member committee.
With two weeks left in the legislative session, the New College trustees will move on to the full Senate floor for consideration.
Only one of the trustees, Jason “Eddie” Speir, came up to Tallahassee for the confirmation hearing on Monday morning.
He told the senators about a death threat that he endured during the time of the New College shakeup, which launched in January. Since then, he has felt in love for the university and feels comfortable walking the campus.
New College, in Sarasota, is largely considered progressive and alternative but concerns have arisen about what the atmosphere will be in the future and how the trustees will reshape New College as a conservative university.
As to religion, State Sen. Bobby Powell, of Palm Beach County, had asked trustee Speir about the truths he talks about.
Speir responded, saying, “I have to start with the truth that Jesus Christ is the way of the truth and the life, everything else comes from there, articulated in the Bible.”
State Sen. Tina Polsky, representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach, said public universities are supposed to include separation of church and state.
“What about the rest of us who don’t believe in Jesus Crist?” she asked.
Speir asked: “Do I have a place as a trustee at a public university?
Polsky remarked: “But the public university is not supposed to teach religion unless one chooses to take a course in religion, and there are many people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ, are atheists, there are several, quite a few religions, including my own, that do not follow Jesus Crist. So how are you going to be a trustee over thousands of students and faculty and just be completely focused on religion?”
Spier said, “my religion leanings affect everything. that’s my life.”
Other speakers describe what’s happened to New College as a “hostile takeover.”
They told senators on Monday that foundation funds are dropping, attendance is dropping, potential loss of financial aid is of concern and college accreditation may be jeopardized.
Polsky said: “People are going to stop enrolling or applying. It’s pathetic, it is sad. It is insane.”
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