Host: The New College board of trustees voted yesterday to make a career politician president of the campus. This is the first time in decades a non-academic will head the small public university, and Richard Corcoran is also expected to be the by far highest-paid New College president. His compensation package will be negotiated in the next few days, but if his interim compensation and a consultant’s recommendations in July are indicators, he will make almost four times as much as his predecessor. Here is Emy McGuire’s report about what happened at New College yesterday.
Emy McGuire: Tyler Fisher, New College of Florida presidential candidate, stood side by side with students in yesterday’s Board of Trustees pre-meeting protest. In a fashion reminiscent of beloved former NCF president, Pat Okker, Fisher interacted with protesters and addressed the crowd.
Tyler Fisher at New College. Photo: Catalyst
Tyler Fisher: I saw actually there’s something so special here that needs to be preserved. So I was very happy to hear that you would organize something like this, where I’d have one more chance to amplify your voices and raise your concerns about the kinds of divisions that are going on that are not necessary.
E.M.: Students, alumni, and community members met in front of the Hamilton center to push back against the treatment of the school. These protesters were greeted with snacks and water provided by community members. “We Love New College” signs were scattered across Z Green. Several students mentioned that they would not be going to this board meeting because they had been to so many, and their voices were still not being heard.
Indeed, inside the cavernous Sudakoff Hall, in what looked like a foregone conclusion, the New College Board of Trustees went through the motions and picked the politician among the three finalists to become the next president.
Richard Corcoran, a former speaker of the Florida House and Commissioner of Education, has been acting interim president since February, and it had been long expected that most Trustees would vote for him, regardless of the other candidates. Over 60 people applied for the position, and the committee had it narrowed down to three: Richard Corcoran, Robert Gervasi, and Tyler Fisher. Gervasi has served as a college president for 14 years at small liberal arts institutions. Tyler Fisher has an academic resume including two BAs, and two Mphils, and time spent in London. He noted that New College of Florida is modeled after New College of Oxford.
The presidential search process has been riddled with controversy. Trustee Amy Reid pointed out that, in the past, presidential searches have involved five sessions where faculty and students had the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask questions. For this search, there were only two sessions (which had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Idalia). They were held from 9-11 am on weekdays when many students and faculty alike were in classes and could not attend, even if they wanted to. Additionally, Reid said that there was a meeting where the Trustees could speak with the candidates, but only half of the board showed up.
The faculty trustee proposed a motion to delay the vote for presidential candidates because of these issues. The motion was denied. It was also noted by Trustee Grace Keenan that, of the three candidates, only Tyler Fisher ever reached out to the student body in person. Fisher met with students in the Hamilton cafeteria during meal breaks to answer questions and to get to know them. During the public comment section, one community member highlighted a difference between Corcoran and Fisher.
Community member: In an interview with New College student newspaper the Catalyst, presidential candidate Tyler Fisher said he would commit to investing 20% of his compensation package in student scholarships. President Corcoran, will you make the same commitment?
E.M.: Trustee Keenan, the New College student body president, shared what she had found from student input regarding the three candidates.
Grace Keenan: I had everyone rank the candidates. First was Dr. Fisher. The students said that one of the biggest things that they noticed is that you took the time to come speak with them in the Hamilton center. They thought his education would allow him to understand the New College system very well. And they also liked that he would be a good person to bring that trust amongst the students, teachers and administration, because he had experienced university in all three capacities. Clearly next was Dr. Gervasi, whose administrative experience was most notable. There was still some lack of clarity with the students about Dr. Gervasi, but they did make it clear that they preferred him over Mr. Corcoran. And finally, for Mr. Corcoran the top comment was that despite being the interim president, he had not come to speak to the students, to open himself up for conversation, throughout the presidential search. I don’t think there is any excuse for that.
E.M.: Despite this feedback, the entire Board of Trustees – with two exceptions – voted for Richard Corcoran to become president of New College. The crowd went silent. Amy Reid cast her vote for Gervasi, and Grace Keenan voted for Tyler Fisher.
Other concerns about Corcoran were raised during the meeting. One, raised by Keenan, was regarding Corcoran’s business plan for the campus, which was recently reviewed by two University of Florida faculty members who specialize in evaluating business plans. They found New College’s plan to be “lacking in sufficient information”.
Another concern, discussed by Trustee Reid, involved the budget for athletics of $600,000, without breakdowns. Chris Kinsley, vice president of finance, did not have a specific answer to this, other than to say that he was not worried and that budgets are often done this way.
A third concern, also brought up by Keenan, was Corcoran’s abrupt firing last week of his vice president of communications, after hiring him only two months earlier. The day before Corcoran’s appointment, news site Florida Politics broke the news about the firing.
The whole meeting concluded with a tense exchange when Amy Reid asked the board to approve a statement about Hispanic Heritage Month. This statement would acknowledge and honor the contributions of Hispanics to New College of Florida. The rest of the board, with exception of Grace Keenan, voted to amend the motion to be decided by administration instead. Trustee Christopher Rufo – participating remotely via Zoom – said this in response to Reid:
Christopher Rufo: Interestingly, you know, Columbus Day – which is very important for me – is coming up next week. I’m surprised that you weren’t asking for a similar, perhaps it’s an oversight. Would you also recommend that we endorse and celebrate Columbus Day on behalf of the Americans in the state of Florida and around the country?
Amy Reid: Actually, on campus there will be a celebration for Indigenous Peoples Day. (Applause)
C.R.: You can see where this goes. We can get bogged down in all these details. … My point is that we should not be dealing with minutiae. We have serious problems. We have a serious crisis. And frankly, I don’t think it’s the best use of our time to review all of the emails one by one that you have sent and not received a response to.
A mural on campus honoring New College student Nan Freeman, who was killed while supporting striking sugarcane workers.
E.M.: Reid also wanted the statement to recognize Nan Freeman, a New College student killed in 1972 while picketing with striking sugarcane workers. Trustee Mark Bauerlein said he couldn’t vote for Reid’s motion because he was not familiar with Freeman. Reid offered to show him a mural on campus that celebrates her life. Bauerlein simply responded “no thank you”, prompting sarcastic laughter in the audience.
At 4:25 pm, 45 minutes after the meeting adjourned, Corcoran sent separate emails to students and faculty, announcing “this new chapter alongside you”. Meanwhile at Sudakoff Hall, Tyler Fisher, who seemed to be the only candidate of the three who stayed for the entire meeting, continued to speak with students and introduce himself to those who remained in the room.
This was Emy McGuire, reporting for WSLR News.
Correction: Our radio report and this article attributed the exchange over Nan Freeman to the wrong trustee. It was Trustee Mark Bauerlein who said he couldn’t vote for Trustee Amy Reid’s motion because he was not familiar with Freeman. We corrected this article to reflect that. We apologize for the editor’s error.
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Thursday, December 7, 2023
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