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Richard Corcoran defends the conservative direction of New College at Tiger Bay Club event

Man in suit stands at clear podium in front of a large red sign.
Meghan Bowman
WUSF Public Media
New College of Florida interim president Richard Corcoran takes questions at an event for the Tampa Tiger Bay Club while defending the conservative direction of school.

New College of Florida interim president Richard Corcoran defended his leadership and the conservative direction the school has taken during a Tampa Tiger Bay Club event on Friday. The former state lawmaker is one of three finalists to become the new president at the Sarasota school.

Richard Corcoran, the former state lawmaker turned interim president for New College of Florida, defended the conservative direction the small liberal arts Sarasota school at an event for the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Friday.

He made his case to be named the school's president permanently, even as he faced questions from the crowd, including a number of concerned parents of students and former students.

Speaking of the goals taken by the new board of like-minded trustees installed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year, Corcoran said that before the leadership change, New College had "gone off the tracks."

"The school's leadership was absolutely, politely, and kindly said, a mess."

Corcoran began with a short speech about the importance of liberal arts education and the university's role in that.

"If you want to have that great liberal arts education, you have to be dead center, it doesn't mean you have all your professors are moderates or dead center, I'm saying you have to draw that line in the middle and you have to have faculty on both sides," he said.

When pressed on the high number of faculty vacancies for the new school year, Corcoran maintained that two-thirds of the 36 openings had nothing to do with the change in leadership.

"I'll promise you this, in (2024), we will have even more faculty because now we're growing so much," he said. "So with more growth, we have to add more and more faculty, and we will have a who's who of faculty."

He added that Stanley Fish, a professor of law at Florida International University with a long history of work in higher education, would be joining the New College faculty.

But Dani Delaney, a parent of a student who transferred out of New College this summer, was not impressed with his message.

"It was nothing but Corcoran simply doing the same Corcoran political word salad, cover-up. I'm not going to tell the truth. I'm gonna use the facts that I want to use," she said.

Delaney said the school has yet to process her son's withdrawal.

A group of almost a dozen people sitting at a round table.
Meghan Bowman
WUSF Public Media
New College of Florida parents sit front and center during remarks from interim president Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran has served as interim president at New College since February.

The former state representative, House speaker, and education commissioner is making an annual salary of $699,000 — almost double the $305,000 his predecessor Patricia Okker received.

He is among three finalists to become the school's permanent president.

"I've been through a lot of things that nobody has," Corcoran said when asked what made him "uniquely qualified" for the position.

"I was the one who got to open up schools with the governor during COVID. I think leadership matters. And I think I'm qualified."

Corcoran said the state Board of Governors looks to New College as the "paragon" for university searches. On September 21, he will meet with students, faculty, and staff to talk about why he should be named permanent president.

Corcoran also publicly addressed the recent disability discrimination complaint the U.S. Department of Education received concerning an accessibility issue with the school's website.

"(The Department of Education) is just reaching out saying, 'Hey, we'd like to talk to you about these certain things.' And it was about what we do for people with unique abilities," he said. "Are we in compliance federally with all of the requirements?"

During his speech, Corcoran said the disability complaint was "not an investigation."

But in an email response to WUSF seeking clarification of the status of the complaint, New College spokesperson Ryan Terry said, "Corcoran was not disputing the term “investigation;” his point was that it is being treated more like an inquiry wherein both parties are cooperating fully."

However, the Department of Education's pending investigations website still has the school listed twice for different disability issues.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.
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