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New College students and teachers return with plenty of changes

Beige concrete building with red trim. A small lawn and brick walkway in foreground.
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Several residence halls at New College of Florida were designed in the 1960s by famed architect I.M. Pei. Those dorms are now closed due to mold and structural damage.

Here's what students and faculty can expect as New College of Florida students and faculty begin their first new academic year following sweeping changes.

Aug. 28 marks the first new academic year since Gov. Ron DeSantis began his conservative overhaul at New College of Florida.

WUSF's Cathy Carter sat down with Sky Lebron to discuss the changes students and faculty are seeing as classes start back.

Carter starts by talking about an unexpected housing challenge some students are facing.

Cathy Carter: “Just a couple of weeks before the start of the fall semester, New College emailed returning students to tell them that their housing assignments have been changed. And that's because college leadership is placing all the new freshmen student athletes into dorms that have historically housed the upperclassmen. All the newly recruited student athletes will live in these newer apartment-style dorms that have kitchen facilities and other amenities, and the school was then going to house the displaced juniors and seniors into older shared-space dorms. But that plan pretty much fell apart just over a week ago, when the college announced it was closing those dorms because of air quality issues and saying they were doing so out of an abundance of caution.”

“And was this something out of the blue or something that college had potentially known about going into the semester?”

“Yeah, an engineering firm months ago reported that these buildings should not be occupied. They have structural problems like cracked ceilings, and there is mold. This was a known problem for years. The school received a similar mold and mildew report in 2020. Interim President Richard Corcoran said he considered the issue a gross malfeasance in previous leadership, but New College had requested money from the state to address the issues, but they did not receive the funding. So making the determination to close them so close to the date when students were scheduled to return has resulted in students having to live off-campus in hotels. The college has rented out one whole hotel that's about a mile from campus, and then others were told they'd be placed at a hotel in downtown Sarasota four miles away. That could be in flux now, because these students are complaining that it's just too far from campus.”

Grey and white concrete hotel building. Parking lot in foreground.
Cathy Carter
At an Aug.10 Board of Trustees meeting, NCF trustees approved a near $1.6 million contract with Home2Suites hotel to house students and provide shuttle transportation. The hotel is located on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, and is about one mile from campus. Students are also being housed at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn.

“So housing changes, and also curriculum changes. New College students who have been there for a while might notice that there's been a change to the classes that they can take. Some that were available last year have been removed, right?”

“Well, that's right. For a few weeks now students have been getting emails that classes they signed up for would no longer be available, so they need to pick something different. But as these electives get cancelled, it could become harder for students to meet the requirements of their area of study.”

“And have the curriculum changes at all led to a shortage of faculty for the upcoming year? Are the two connected at all? Because another thing that's been reported has been such a turnover of that faculty base.”

“Well, yes, it's because there aren't the professors to teach these classes. More than one-third of New College of Florida’s faculty resigned over the course of the last six months. And many of these people have posted on social media. They talk about how leaving was a really painful decision because they love the students and the former culture of New College. They had homes here, they had families here, but they just could not see themselves moving forward under the new direction the school is going in.”

“How's enrollment looking for the first year under the new regime with all these changes in place?”

“Well, the college is reporting record enrollment for the new fall semester, just over 300 students. The growth is largely driven by student athlete recruitment. Interim President Richard Corcoran has been very candid that this would be one of his ways to increase enrollment. It’s to create a robust sports program at New College, which hasn't had one. It was just intramural sports before, but now they've introduced all of these new coaches. They're building athletic facilities. And this is just one of the ways that they think they're going to make New College more appealing is to have the students come there.”

“I saw that there’s 70 players on the baseball team right now.”

“There is 70 players on the baseball team, and I just don't know how that is going to work out. I'm not a big sports person, but I think 70 is a lot.”

“It’s gonna be hard to get some playing time on that team. And ever since the changes started, there has been students and people who have been working and challenging the new regime, fighting against them. What's the latest on that fight?”

“Oh, gosh, yes. For months, there have been all sorts of protests and pushback. And now there is things happening on the legal front. A group called NCF freedom, which is supporters and alumni, have filed a lawsuit in federal court, challenging the new law — SB 266. Part of that higher education law that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed on the campus of New College restricts certain topics that can be taught in college. So they are suing on the imposition of restrictions on speech, in violation of the First Amendment.”

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