Feb. 22 BOT meeting: campus master plan, land expansion, a new master’s program and more
Members of the public hold signs with slogans including “Bunga Bunga’ boy is unfit and unqualified to lead,” “New College is a hostile educational environment” and “You give me the ick.” Photo by Riley Bucklin.

Feb. 22 BOT meeting: campus master plan, land expansion, a new master’s program and more

Tighter administrative hold on student government, removal of the campus master planning regulation, drastically low exam scores of spring admits and the removal of required application essays for new students brought public upset to New College’s Feb. 22 Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, where concerned community members gave public comments, held protest signs and stormed out. The meeting resulted in amendments to NCF’s student governance, a new graduate program in Marine Mammal Science and the approval of two land acquisitions that will expand the campus. Updates from President Richard Corcoran included campus improvements and several academic affairs issues. The meeting also brought legal updates, approval of the academic calendar for 2024-2025 and heated discussion regarding changes to Title IX reporting on campus. 

Faculty Trustee and Professor of French Literature and Language Amy Reid requested that two of the eight items on the consent agenda be removed. One concerned an amendment regarding student government procedures and the other addressed the campus Master Plan. Rather than being removed, these items were kept open for discussion among the trustees.

Board of Trustees at the Feb. 22 meeting in Sudakoff. Photo by Riley Bucklin.

Regulation Amendment 6-1001 Student Governance

The proposed amendment to Student Governance was described in the meeting agenda as establishing a way for New College to oversee student government and other matters pertaining to student life. Under the amendment, any student government legislation would be subject to approval by Vice President of Student Services Almeda Jacks before the legislation is implemented. 

NCSA President and Trustee Grace Keenan presented two modifications to the proposed amendment. First, she suggested changing the word “legislation” to more accurately reflect what the Board of Governors (BOG) regulation says, which is the ability for the BOT to approve internal procedures of student government organizations. These procedures include the student government constitution and its bylaws. 

The second modification was offered to clarify the process by adding that while the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) would have to report any new legislation to the VP, if there was no response within 10 days the request would be considered approved for the sake of keeping things moving. Keenan pointed out that this procedure is followed by the University of Central Florida and its student government. 

All trustees were in favor of the modifications, and the amended motion passed with no opposition. 

Regulation amendment 3-5101 Campus Master Plan

The proposed amendment would delete the entirety of 3-5101, which described rules for implementing and overseeing the growth of facilities at New College. The school would still be required to follow state-issued campus master planning regulation, but 3-5101 served as New College-specific guidelines for how the master planning process goes within the BOG’s requirements. Administration would rather scrap the school-specific plan and rely solely on the BOG’s state regulations. The original plan gave power to a space committee, which had authority over crucial parts of the master planning process, such as coordinating data collection, and was allowed to make comments and suggestions on master planning drafts. The regulation described how the Campus Master Plan would be updated annually with the help of the space committee and be sent to the BOG for approval. 

Three public commenters at the beginning of the BOT meeting had objected to the abandonment of the New College-specific master plan. All of them voiced the same request from the Uplands Neighborhood Association, a community of about 110 residents off North Tamiami Trail. The speakers identified proposals such as the Freedom Institute and the opening of Uplands Boulevard to college traffic as conflicting with the current plan’s preservation goals and development agreement with the City of Sarasota. The board was urged to request that item 3-5101 be removed from the consent agenda.

“It’s unclear why the board thinks this regulation is inconsistent with Florida statute. Nothing in Campus Master Plan regulation is inconsistent with the Florida Constitution, state, or BOG regulation,” community member Karen Stack said during the public comment period. “If 3-5101 needs updated verbiage, do it. But do not eliminate this critical, data-driven master planning process.”  Members of the audience applauded her statement. 

During the board’s consideration of the amendment Vice President of Legal Affairs and Interim Title IX Coordinator David Brickhouse stated that the existing regulation contains no call for public notice, comment or advertising requirements, whereas the BOG’s regulation calls for at least three publicly noticed and advertised meetings. He also stated that the creation of a new, legally binding Master Plan each year through the space committee does not comply with the statute or BOG’s requirements. 

Corcoran said that the Campus Master Plan Committee has not met in four or five years. “It’s an unnecessary committee that does not afford anything bigger, broader or more open or transparent than what this process is that you’re amending today.”

Corcoran also stated that they are not replacing the current Master Plan with anything else because the BOG’s regulation is too extensive and changes too often for the administration to consistently amend the Campus Master Plan to adhere to state regulation. He added that there is the possibility of creating new master plan regulations if there’s something they want to bring back.  

“Why are people in the community feeling like… they’re being cut out of the conversation?” Reid asked, followed by applause from the audience. 

“It’s not an issue,” Corcoran responded.

When asked by Keenan if the topic could be tabled until they had a comprehensive description of what the plan is going to look like and how community input would be ensured, Corcoran commented that the state regulation is already in statute and has been presented at numerous meetings. 

With Reid and Keenan as the only members in opposition, removal of master plan regulation 3-5101 was approved.

President’s Report

Corcoran’s report consisted of an update on planning and campus improvements, a recap of New College Day in Tallahassee and the first of regular academic affairs updates, as requested by Trustee Keenan. 

As for planning and growth of facilities, Corcoran stated that they have held two public sessions in Sudakoff open to input from the public and are now going through and checking with different local agencies. The current 90-day period will lead to another public meeting in May, and hopefully there will be an amended plan before the BOT in June. “At any point in time people have input or comments, it’s completely open throughout this entire period,” Corcoran concluded. “The more suggestions, the more counsel we have, hopefully the better the result will be.”

Corcoran presented a slideshow of campus improvements that have taken place since his presidency. 

He stated that the front field is now home to temporary batting cages for baseball and softball teams and has new sprinklers. He said a donor has given NCF $500k to make the field a permanent green space, and the school is currently working with a landscape architect.. He also stated that spaces such as the Four Winds Café and the inside of College Hall have been restucco’d, resided and repainted. 

“It’s been completely redone inside and out, it’s beautiful,” Corcoran stated in reference to the Four Winds. “Now we have Mama G’s, a legendary bakery and breakfast place that’s there and serving students… and the community.” In 2022, Four Winds reopened following a two-year closure with the help of Vice President of Finance and Administration Chris Kinsley. 

With regard to College Hall, “The entire inside has undergone… pushing $1 million of renovation,” Corcoran stated.  “We use it for admissions, for events. Tonight we have an event with a bunch of headmasters from schools all across the state. We’ll eat dinner there and talk to them about sending their graduates to us.” 

Corcoran stated that lines in the pool, the warehouse behind it and surrounding landscaping have been redone, and they are currently waiting for electrical service to set up a Jumbotron screen beside the pool, which will hopefully be done in the next 30 to 60 days. 

He also mentioned that they will begin Pritzker marine biology lab renovation. Improvements include a deck overlooking the water for “receptions and classroom activities,” stabilization of the freshwater and saltwater tanks, stabilization of the ground and upkeep of the building. He said this will be done by August. 

Plastic greenhouses have been taken down and grounds have been cleared where a new greenhouse will be installed by the April BOT meeting, Corcoran said. And the 58th Street extension is completed, creating a full loop of traffic around campus. 

Corcoran mentioned the possibility of offering free meals for the first 50 students at events at the newly installed Robertson Park, admitting that they see more of the community than students present. He then mentioned that the park will eventually be renamed after an alumni donor.

Corcoran acknowledged that the administration has been receiving criticism for the AstroTurf in front of ACE. “The grass out on the front, we get a lot of criticism. We want to do it sparingly and only in spots where it’s difficult,” he said. “This area was… probably 50 percent dirt, 50 percent grass. It was hard to keep up…If you go out there on any given day you’ll see our students all over the grass in all the spots that we did it, and it looks fantastic year-round.”

Corcoran stated that more than 20 people went along for New College Day in Tallahassee, including students, alumni, trustees and staff, and they were “fantastically well received.” He assured the BOT that support is there for New College, and that he is optimistic about being given another additional $20 million or more. 

Academic affairs updates

Corcoran stated that a proposal for a new mission statement has been distributed campus-wide, allowing people to email in their suggestions and thoughts. A draft of the new mission statement will be up for approval at the April or May BOT meeting. 

There are 30 to 40 open searches going on right now for new faculty, Corcoran told the BOT. He said that New College is currently on pace to give a full report of all faculty hires by the April 11 BOT meeting. April 11 is also when tenure applications will be voted on by the BOT. 

Enrollment Numbers and Scores

Corcoran stated that enrollment is predicted to increase by 150 percent for the fall 2024-2025 semester.  He estimated that the capacity is approximately 325 to 400 new students due to space and growth limitations. He said that although they are seeing a boost of $1 million in revenues, a 150 percent increase in enrollment numbers also comes with more infrastructure demands.

Trustee Reid said that although higher enrollment numbers are good and 60 transfer students have been brought in for the Spring 2024 semester, she has concerns about recruiting more athletes into teams that are already filled and how test scores have been affected as quality indicators. 

“[A] large number of those recruits were for the baseball team which was already overenrolled,” Reid stated. “I also note that the average SAT for the students between last year and this year for the spring transfers dropped by 150 points.” Members of the audience gasped. 

Corcoran responded that because spring enrollment does not affect their fall enrollment metrics, many state universities admit poorer-performing students in the spring semester – especially when it comes to admitting athletes.

“It gives them a ramp up to see if they’re capable of doing the work here. Most of those are transfer students, so those are more based on the GPA because they’ve already been in a college and shown that they can do college-level work,” Corcoran stated. “It’s not the same as a first-time-in-college admit, but yes, we are cognizant of the numbers.”

Corcoran also explained that because not all teams were filled with players in the fall, they are playing catch-up with spring admits to fill those teams and get the numbers up. 

He mentioned that there has been a dramatic increase in Black, Hispanic and out-of-state students. Reid commented that despite that, only a third of recruits have been female. 

Reid also referenced a public speaker who had mentioned that an essay is no longer a requirement for the NCF admissions application. 

“We use the general application… CommonApp… and an essay is a part of the CommonApp,” Corcoran responded. “I don’t know where that came from. You’ll hear a lot of comments that are far from the truth.”

The current tags on New College’s CommonApp application page say otherwise, however.

Tags shown on New College’s CommonApp page, which the WayBackMachine shows have been changed between Feb. and Nov. of 2023 to include “No personal essay required.”

Provost Changes

On Feb. 16, Corcoran announced to the campus community that Dean of Students David Rancourt has been appointed to the position of Interim Provost, replacing Brad Theissen who will now serve as Vice Provost. “A lot of people talked to me about the Master Plan, but more talked about the Provost,” Keenan told Corcoran during the BOT meeting. “You hired a new provost, but the Faculty Handbook says it has to be a faculty member. How were you allowed to break that rule?”

“It’s completely within the confines of our authority,” Corcoran stated in reference to SB266. “It’s delegated to the president to make that decision, which is in the language of the statute that allows me to do that.”

Legal Updates 

In his report, Corcoran mentioned that New College has faced a plethora of legal issues including whistleblower lawsuits, federal and state lawsuits, employment lawsuits, trademark lawsuits, SACHS inquiries, Department of Education (DOE) inquiries and BOG inquiries.

“The list is voluminous, but here we are 11 months later and I’m happy to say that some of them are either starting to get dropped, dismissed, or we win them outright,” Corcoran commented. “We have not lost a single case. We’ve been very judicious in following the law to a T.”

Trustee Galvano led the legal updates portion of the agenda, starting with a case that he is required to share by law. The BOT was involved in a suit of negligence and Title IX by a plaintiff referred to as Jane Doe over an incident in 2017. The case went to mediation on Feb. 14 and was resolved with $1.125 million to be awarded to Jane Doe. 

Galvano reported that the BOT had been sued also by the organization NCF Freedom, a group of faculty and students who declared aspects of SB266 to be unconstitutional. The BOT went to a federal hearing and was successful in defending its position. 

As reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the case has been voluntarily dismissed by NCF Freedom but could be reopened at a later date. 

NCF and the Car Museum on Tamiami Trail have entered a settlement agreement and the property will be vacated on Mar. 15, Galvano informed the board.

The case alleging intellectual property infringement by Bard College is also in the process of being resolved, Galvano said. A site using the name ALT New College has since been changed to AltLiberal Arts, and Bard has agreed to pay all of NCF’s legal fees as well as present a letter of apology. 

Title IX

Brickhouse presented a bar graph to show that a total of 43 reports in Title IX were documented during the 2022-23 academic year versus only 13 so far this year. Three formal complaints were filed last year and none have been filed this year. 

“I don’t think there’s a way these numbers could be accurate,” Trustee Keenan commented. “The situation last year is we had a Title IX coordinator that was on campus and had a well-established relationship and presence on campus. This past year there was a period of time where our Title IX Coordinator was in Texas and didn’t even have access to the Title IX email, so if things were reported there was a big delay in whether or not they got a response.

“Also, our Title IX coordinator has changed from that to you at some point during this year, all while there being almost no announcement to the students about that. We have a real reporting issue, but we’re trying to resolve it in student government,” Keenan concluded. The audience applauded at this point.

In response, Brickhouse stated that there was a smooth transition between coordinators and there was no loss of access or denial of rights. He said Alicia Carter Harris, the current Deputy Title IX coordinator, works closely with Director of Community Education and Standards Dorothea Mack and Almeda Jacks to have an on-campus presence. 

“We have a deputy Title IX coordinator that has been phenomenal, meeting with Student Affairs staff on a weekly basis to investigate,” Brickhouse said. “We take all complaints and allegations seriously. We had some issues in terms of updating the website that have been resolved, as well as restoring the Title IX email.”

Reid was also concerned about Title IX being placed under the legal office’s oversight, which was disapproved of in an audit meeting discussion last summer. Of the institutions in the State University System, only one other handles Title IX in this way, she pointed out. 

“…there is not much space for freedom on the part of the person who is receiving reports and helping to manage investigations in an office the size of yours,” Reid stated. “You know that in Title IX investigations, being able to talk to somebody actually really matters. Can you explain why you think it’s appropriate to have Title IX under legal and perhaps give me some reassurance that this is a temporary solution and not one you intend to have going forward?”

Rufo requested to speak before tackling Reid’s question.

“I would just encourage Trustee Reid to take some good news when there’s good news,” Rufo stated. “The fact of the matter—and Trustee Reid has been associated with the university for a long time, she would know—if we are now seeing a sudden decrease in these instances, that’s good. It means the system is working, it means the culture is improving. 

“It seems like every agenda item is just nitpicking even if the news is good,” Rufo continued. “Perhaps we should reflect on why the culture when she was, for example, the leader of the Gender Studies Program, seemed to create many more of these incidents. I think some self-reflection would be better than petty criticism.”

Following Rufo’s statement, the crowd erupted. One community member even stormed off during the meeting while shouting at Rufo for the comment.

Member of the public raising a sign during the BOT meeting. Photo by Riley Bucklin.

Brickhouse explained that the reason the Title IX office was moved away from Student Affairs was to better incorporate faculty and staff, who are also covered by the provisions of Title IX. “We are enforcing the law, enforcing our regulations, and we take these matters extremely seriously. That cannot be said of prior administrations, and we’ve taken great efforts to make sure that that is no longer the case,” Brickhouse stated.

Trustee Reid talking to Brickhouse during a 10-minute break following the Title IX discussion. Photo by Riley Bucklin.

Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority Agreement

A draft of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority Agreement was approved at the Feb. 16 BOT meeting and is now pending review by the Florida Aviation Authority. The agreement allows New College to buy a 30-acre parcel of land north of General Spaatz Boulevard for $11.5-million.

A day before the meeting, a whistleblower from the airport had released a complaint questioning the terms of the sale and asking for reconsideration of the deal, concerned about why New College is receiving the land for such a low price. Regardless, the motion to transmit the agreement to the Division of State Lands passed without opposition.

Nine-Acre Manatee County Parcel Donation

On Feb. 13, Manatee County Commission unanimously voted to donate approximately nine acres north of the Crosley Estate to New College. The agreement requires a mandatory green space and security on the border of the property. The college is able to use it for any purpose in furtherance of educational goals, but architecture must be consistent with the estate and not exceed four stories. The county must be notified of any big events in case of scheduling conflicts with weddings or parties held at the estate. 

The agreement was approved by the Board without opposition.

New Academic Degree Program: Masters in Marine Mammal Science

A new Masters program was presented to the Board by Professor of Psychology Heidi Harley. Harley stated that New College has dolphins in the bay, and this specialty program would be globally recognized.  She said the program hopes to offer both lab work and field work, allowing research with animals both inside and outside the facility—a unique opportunity to learn more about marine mammals. 

Harley said she has had numerous discussions with faculty, and potential students for the program have already been identified. The goal is to enroll about 10 students for this coming August.

The Masters in Marine Mammal Science Program was approved with no opposition.

Budget Update

The original $4-million estimated revenue has exceeded a little over $5-million at this point in time due to increased enrollment. The deferred maintenance budget was at $66-million last year around this time and is now at $30-million. 

Reid expressed concerns regarding the disparity in budgets for male and female sports teams on campus. “In total, there’s 45k in expenses not counting the salaries of the coaches for the women’s teams and 94k for the men’s teams,” she stated.

Athletic Director and Head Baseball Coach Mariano Jimenez addressed the question by saying that though they projected 20 women’s basketball team players last year, they only managed to recruit eight and have only added an additional six this semester.

“It’s consistent with some of the other women’s sports,” Corcoran stated. “What you have is less cost on everything – less cost on travel, less cost on food, less cost on students, less cost on uniforms… Those numbers will equalize and we can go through them with you to show you that they are equal… It’s just right now the difference between size and schedule.”

Reid mentioned that the one equivalent number between men and women’s sports was for additional game expenses, such as referees and officials for home games. The men were scheduled to have 15 home events and the women 21, yet the budget is $5000 for each. Corcoran stated again that these are only estimates and the school is not in its first season yet. 

“Make no mistake about it, the investment in women’s athletics and men’s athletics… we’re fully invested in both,” he concluded.

Leave a Reply