In January DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, appointed six new members to the 13-member board at New College of Florida, a tiny public liberal arts college in Sarasota. Newsweek reported that the moves were part of DeSantis' "war on woke" in Florida and that the board was then tasked with changing the mission of the college and revamping its curriculum.
That happened in a big way when one of those new appointees announced on X, formerly Twitter, that New College of Florida would end its gender studies program.
"The New College of Florida board of trustees has directed the administration to abolish its Gender Studies program," Christopher F. Rufo wrote. "We are the first public university in America to begin rolling back the encroachment of queer theory and gender pseudoscience into academic life."
But there's pushback regarding the change. Yesterday, a nonprofit comprised of current and former New College students, faculty, and community members filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new state law (SB 266) that has resulted in several courses – gender studies being one of them – being curtailed, cancelled, or otherwise affected by the new law. DeSantis signed the bill into law in May.
Rufo: Gender studies 'wildly contradictory' to board's mission
Rufo told The Tampa Bay Times that gender studies is "wildly contradictory" to the board's mission and that the board will now effort to "revive a classical liberal arts agenda."
New College of Florida has an enrollment of fewer than 700 students.
The gender studies program had been available to students for almost 30 years. It will be eliminated as a major option for new students beginning in 2024. The program was created in 1995 and became a major in 2014, Newsweek reported.
Only three members of the board voted against the measure.
"This is a wonderful example of people who are really committed to using the authority they've been given to achieve a mission on behalf of the taxpayers who are supporting the university," Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for education studies at Family Research Council, said on Washington Watch Monday.
New College of Florida offers a different academic experience.
"I would describe it as very much of a boutique experience of a college," Kilgannon told show host Jody Hice. "You don't get grades there. You're given after each class a formal written evaluation of your performance in that class. They have a contract system where if you agree that you're going to pass three classes out of five, and if you do that, that's great; but if you only pass two classes out of five, then you're going to have a problem."
Where have women's studies programs gone?
Kilgannon says the growth of gender studies programs in American colleges has come at the expense of women's studies programs. The fact that many women's studies programs have been if not eliminated then minimalized is something many professors like to keep quiet, she said.
"As we say in the gender identity issue, women are 'erased.' This is the greatest example of this. I'm sure this department used to be a women's studies department," said the FRC fellow. "Even if they may have a women's studies section within the department, it's a gender studies department – and it's there to teach students about Marxist Queer Theory."
New Discourses, a think tank which declares no political leaning, defines Queer Marxism as a form of sociocultural property called "normalcy" that queer theorists define as having been unjustly created and in need of destruction and total abolition.
Kilgannon reminded Hice that no taxpayers in any state are constitutionally obligated to fund a gender studies program.
Rufo said New College of Florida will be hiring faculty to teach in at least 15 traditional subject areas including Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Math, Art, Creative Writing, Music, Economics and Political Science.
In response to great media outcry about the board's decision, Rufo said on X: "When Gov. DeSantis appointed me to the New College board he said, 'If the media isn't attacking you, you're not doing your job.' I wear their contempt as a badge of honor."
New College of Florida was founded in 1960, spent several years merged into the University of South Florida, and in 2001 became an autonomous college. It is one of 11 schools in the State University System of Florida and serves as the honors college for the state system.