New College of Florida officials on Thursday interviewed three final candidates vying to become the school’s next permanent president, including current Interim President Richard Corcoran.
The trustees also interviewed Tyler Fisher, an associate professor of modern languages and literature at the University of Central Florida, and Robert Gervasi, a former interim president at the University of Mount Union in Ohio.
The interviews took place prior to a meeting of the New College trustees Thursday afternoon, in which the board gave initial approval for a business plan to guide the school and took the first step toward eliminating a gender-studies program.
Corcoran, a Republican former speaker of the Florida House and state education commissioner, has helmed the school since February and overseen numerous changes that have drawn objections from students and faculty.
During his interview with members of the New College trustees, Corcoran laid out his vision for the school.
“New College has a great history, we have a great founding, we have great founding documents. What we’ve tried to do is get back to that ground zero and live out the greatness that has been and is New College,” Corcoran said.
But Corcoran pointed to “certain things that have surprised me and certain things that have disappointed me” during his months leading the school.
“The leadership here has been, politely said, abysmal. I really believe that,” Corcoran said.
The direction of the small liberal arts college in Sarasota has dramatically changed since January, when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a slew of conservative trustees to the board. The revamped board then voted to remove former president Patricia Okker, replacing her with Corcoran on an interim basis.
Corcoran on Wednesday told the board that there has “never been a great vision” for the university, and repeatedly touted a business plan that would guide the school’s trajectory over the next five years.
The 119-page plan, which got a green light from the trustees Thursday, involves new curriculum at New College that would require first-year students and transfer students to enroll in a “course on Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and a course titled Data: Exploration, Visualization, and Communication.”
The wide-ranging plan also addresses things such as an expansion of new athletic programs at New College, the creation of a new logo for the school, potential academic programs on the “practical application of artificial intelligence” and a planned “Freedom Institute” that would offer for-credit courses.
Corcoran billed the business plan as part of his case for assuming the president role on a permanent basis.
“I think more than anything, you need real leadership. And it’s a day-to-day thing,” Corcoran said. “You want someone who is genuinely humble, but you also want someone who has absolute resolve to accomplish the mission.”
Fisher and Gervasi also underwent roughly 45-minute interviews with the trustees. Fisher spoke about his time helming a study-abroad program in a previous job as an example of his leadership experience and acknowledged that being the president of New College would be a “big jump” in his career.
But Fisher also said he would “bring some unique strengths to a unique opportunity.”
Gervasi described himself as “a pragmatist as well as an academic idealist.” He described a goal to foster an environment that “brings left and right together.”
“I’ve had a lonely political life. Because my conservative friends tell me I’m not conservative enough and my liberal friends say I’m not liberal enough,” Gervasi said.
The trustees did not take action on making a selection among the three candidates Thursday, and the university did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The News Service of Florida about when the board is scheduled to make a selection.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the trustees that followed Thursday’s interviews got tense when one of the DeSantis-appointed trustees, Christopher Rufo, proposed eliminating New College’s gender studies program.
The trustees were advised that the process of eliminating the program would have to involve the state university system’s Board of Governors. The board voted to initiate a process that would lead to the program’s elimination.
Trustee Amy Reid, a professor who is chairwoman of the New College Faculty and is involved in the gender studies program, and Grace Keenan, the trustees’ student member, voted against the move to do away with the program.
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