Who are the six conservative trustees DeSantis installed at New College of Florida?

Governor Ron DeSantis sparked controversy this month with his selection of six noted curators for the New College of Florida Board of Trustees.

Most of his picks are not new to Florida education policy — having advised the governor on state policy or curriculum. What is new is the degree of direct influence they will have on the smallest school in the state university system.

READ MORE: New College has been embroiled in the DeSantis culture war. Can it remain “quirky, queer and creative”?

Here is an overview of their background:

Christopher Rufo

Christopher Rufo, a writer, filmmaker and activist who has challenged critical race theory, delivers a speech at Hillsdale College, a small conservative school in Michigan. His speech was titled “Besieging the Institutions,” where he proposed major changes to public universities in the U.S. government. Ron DeSantis announced Rufo’s appointment to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees on January 6, 2023. YouTube

Perhaps the best known of the six new appointees, Rufo, 37, is a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute and editor of the institute’s City Journal publication.

He gained attention in 2020 when he publicized examples of diversity training materials used in government and corporate workshops, popularizing the term “critical rate theory” as a rallying cry for the right.

In December 2021, Rufo appeared on stage with DeSantis when announcing the governor’s “Stop WOKE Act,” which prohibits teaching in schools and workplaces that a race or gender is inherently privileged or biased.

In a 2022 Speech at Hillsdale CollegeRufo presented a hypothetical plan for the conservative capture of a public university, starting with an independent board of trustees appointed by a state governor.

“We have to get out of this idea that the public university system is a completely independent entity that practices academic freedom,” Rufo said. “These are public universities that must reflect and convey the values ​​of the public, and public representatives, that is, state legislators, have the ultimate power to shape or reshape these institutions.”

Matthew Spalding

Matthew Spalding Courtesy of Hillsdale College

Matthew Spalding Courtesy of Hillsdale College

Spalding, the 58-year-old dean of the graduate school of government at Hillsdale College, spoke positively about DeSantis’ previous educational initiatives and appeared next to the governor during the Stop WOKE Act announcement.

“I believe we are on the cusp of a time when the idea of ​​education as an issue is realigning,” Spalding said in a December 2021 press release. “It’s no longer a question of budget or politics; it is a question of giving it back its rightful place in the formation of good citizens.

Spalding did not respond to requests for comment.

He co-chaired former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission and served as co-editor of next reportwhich sought to define a conservative understanding of “the history and principles of the founding of the United States” in response to The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

The American Historical Association called the report a “simplistic interpretation that relies on lies, inaccuracies, omissions and misleading statements.”

The report calls for “authentic education”, based on principles such as strong family structures, limited government, private property and religious faith.

Charles Kesler

Charles Kesler Courtesy of the Claremont Institute

Charles Kesler Courtesy of the Claremont Institute

Kesler, 65, is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank not associated with the university.

He is editor of the institute’s flagship publication, The Claremont Review of Books, which has been called “intellectual focusof Trumpism.

His brand of “American conservatism” – which he describes as “conservatism rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the constitution– found a home in Trump’s America First ideology and made it onto Politico’s 2017 list of 50 ideas that are blowing up American politics.

Kesler served on the 1776 Commission and is listed as a contributor to the report. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Marc Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein Courtesy of Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein Courtesy of Mark Bauerlein

A professor emeritus of English at Emory University, Bauerlein served on the National Endowment for the Arts in the Obama administration and advised the 2020 review of Florida’s K-12 English language arts curriculum.

He is perhaps best known for his 2008 book “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Trust No One Under 30)”. In it, Bauerlein denounces the decline of interest in classical literature among millennials.

His view of the country’s intellectual scene hasn’t improved since then, Bauerlein said. But despite his pessimism, he remains a dedicated academic institutionalist – more concerned, he says, with academic rigor than ideology.

Jason “Eddie” Speir

Eddie Speir Courtesy of Inspiration Academy

Eddie Speir Courtesy of Inspiration Academy

Speir, 53, is the founder and principal of Inspiration Academy, a private Christian high school in Bradenton.

He acknowledged that the six new New College trustees may have been chosen for ideological reasons: “Of course there is a political motivation. You can’t escape it,” Speir wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

“I believe that universities today, New College in particular, are becoming pipelines to a tyrannical ideology,” he continued. “When you separate a person from their creator and reduce their identity to a group, sexual preference, or skin color, you often create a victim looking for a villain.”

Despite differing views, Speir anticipates there will be alignment in focus when the board meets.

“I am a strong believer in free speech and can respect people I disagree with,” Speir wrote.

Debra Jenks

Debra Jenks Courtesy of Debra Jenks

Debra Jenks Courtesy of Debra Jenks

Jenks, 64, is a securities mediation attorney in Palm Beach County. Of the six new directors, she is the only one to have attended the New College of Florida, graduating in 1980 with a degree in economics.

“New College was a beacon of light and hope for me,” Jenks wrote in an email. “I hope we can prevent New College of Florida from closing or merging.”

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