The Biden administration is attempting to crush a small Florida liberal arts school for not being left-wing.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced that it would launch an investigation into the New College of Florida.
The school, which previously had been known for its liberal politics, is being transformed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a notable trustee, Christopher Rufo.
Rufo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the recently released “America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything.”
Rufo explained in City Journal what the investigation is about.
He said it began with a complaint from ACLU attorney Jennifer Granick. She said that the school’s board and trustees violated civil rights law by “removing ‘gender neutral’ signage from bathrooms, defunding the [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and gender studies programs, and ‘misgendering’ the former DEI director and a former student, who use ‘ze/zir’ and ‘they/them’ pseudo-pronouns, respectively.”
As Heritage Foundation scholar Mike Gonzalez wrote for the Washington Examiner, neither “ze” nor “zir” are words in the English language—or any other language. They are an invention of far-left ideologues who have come up with “‘neo-pronouns’ that must now be used in place of the third-person singular ‘he’ or ‘she’ for people who say they are of unspecified sex.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The complaint against the school included that Rufo “mocked” the contrived pronouns. He didn’t deny it.
“You know what? I did mock her,” Rufo said in a conversation with Gonzalez. “Her pronouns are ridiculous. They are trying to make mockery illegal.”
Is mocking the ridiculous a federal crime now?
My colleague Fred Lucas reported that several members of Congress in the House Anti-Woke Caucus wrote a letter to the assistant education secretary for civil rights, Catherine Lhamon, questioning the investigation.
The three Republican legislators, Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, wrote:
The original complaint alleges that opposition to ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ programming is a violation of federal law. In effect, it argues that conservative political beliefs are illegal. [The Office of Civil Rights’] decision to investigate the New College of Florida based on a clearly politically motivated complaint calls into question its commitment to impartially enforcing civil rights law.
The New College of Florida is bucking every trend that’s poisoned modern academia. The board of trustees is abandoning the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. It is also seeking professors with an actual diversity of views and backgrounds, and it’s ending overtly ideological programs like “gender studies” on campus.
Those ideas will instead be discussed in traditional programs like “history, biology, and psychology,” according to another board member, Matthew Spalding, a professor and dean at Hillsdale College.
I imagine that, to most taxpaying Americans, that sounds entirely reasonable. Given that the New College of Florida is a publicly funded school, why should it serve as an sinkhole of left-wing indoctrination?
If you thought that the Left would see what happened there and just move on, I’d say you don’t understand how the Left operates.
The New College of Florida takeover triggered not only a deluge of media coverage immediately declaring the school “broken” and a “failure,” but it has drawn out a hostile federal regime looking to squash it.
This is an example of why it is impossible to escape the culture war. The Left simply won’t abide an institution, anywhere, rejecting its view of the world. Any institution the Left doesn’t control it immediately seek to destroy, whether it’s the Supreme Court or a small school in Florida.
The transformation of the New College of Florida from an extremely left-wing liberal arts school into an institution that embraces classical learning, a “Hillsdale of the South” as DeSantis called it, represents a total defeat for the Left.
Never mind the fact that New College will be an extreme outlier in the liberal-dominated sea of higher education. For the Left, what’s happening at the New College of Florida amounts to heresy from the secular faith. Higher education is the gatekeeping institution of the American elite, and losing their near-monopoly on that power is perceived as an existential threat.
And that gets to the biggest reason why Democrats are desperate to destroy the New College of Florida. If the project succeeds, even just a little bit, other states may soon copy its model. After decades of complaining about the radicalism of our colleges and universities, Republican governors and legislators might now actually attempt other school takeovers.
That will be especially the case if the experiment is successful.
It wouldn’t just be a victory for the Right; it would be a victory for free thought and higher education in general. Our college campuses have gone from bastions of liberalism, to hotbeds of radicalism, to monolithic enforcers DEI ideology.
The growth of schools that reject that model would mean that there are serious alternatives.
Despite accusations of “chaos” at the New College of Florida from grumbling opponents of the school’s rightward turn, things seem to be working out just fine. Enrollment is up, with 2022 setting a record for the school.
As ridiculous as the Biden investigation is, it isn’t surprising. The Left is highly invested in seeing the New College of Florida fail, and lawfare is one of its favorite tactics. Stopping the changes by traditional political means isn’t working out for Democrats right now. DeSantis won his reelection bid for governor by a wide margin, and the state is getting redder.
So, when we have political power, we don’t have to cede every single institution to far Left radicals? What a crazy idea. It just might work.
It turns out that governing as a conservative isn’t just effective; it can be popular to boot. That’s what scares the Left, which will use every tool in its arsenal to ensure that this green shoot of liberty fails.
Jarrett Stepman is a columnist for The Daily Signal. He is also the author of the book “The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America’s Past.” Send an email to Jarrett. @JarrettStepman
EDITORS NOTE: This Daily Signal column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.
The Daily Signal depends on the support of readers like you. Donate now