The populist right has portrayed New College as a notorious example of indoctrination in higher education—a narrative that does not withstand scrutiny.
Before this year, life at New College of Florida could feel like a retreat into a pleasantly forgotten corner of the country. Students walked on paths that wound past wisps of Spanish moss and a stately banyan tree to a park on Sarasota Bay, where the outside world often felt as distant as the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico. Then on January 6, Ron DeSantis, Florida’s popular Republican governor, seized control of the college by appointing six new members to its board of trustees.
Suddenly, the Sarasota campus found itself at the center of the culture wars. A DeSantis spokesman declared that the college had been “completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning.” Christopher Rufo, the most outspoken new trustee, vowed to take it back. “We are now over the walls and ready to transform higher education from within,” he tweeted. In New College, Rufo saw every excess of “wokeness” in academia. He believes that critical theorists spent decades pursuing the “ideological capture” of universities, installing “coercive ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programs.” At New College, he charges, the students and faculty faced something like “a hostage situation.”