Former New College President Patricia Okker was removed from her position on Jan. 31, by a new Board of Trustees (BOT) featuring seven additional members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. For new trustee Dr. Mark Bauerlein, this decision was important for reconciling the goals of the new administration and existing faculty.
“I like President Okker, we had good conversation. She is clearly committed to the college,” Bauerlein said. However, “with a whole new set of leadership, it puts existing leadership in a bad spot.”
In an effort to understand the individual perspectives of the new BOT, the Catalyst was able to interview Bauerlein twice—one time on Jan. 10 and another on Feb. 8. A lot has changed between those two interviews, between the extensive media coverage and the Jan. 31 BOT meeting that completely altered the course of the college’s future. Regardless, Baeurlein maintained similar sentiments between the two, with a key difference being a better understanding of the college’s culture itself.
“I find that the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ideology is very strong on NCF campus,” he stated during the interview on Feb. 8. He elaborated that while the new BOT wants to get rid of this culture, it seems to him that the faculty wants it to stay. “That would be a case where the President would be caught in the middle.”
“I do not think that equity is continent with academic values,” Bauerlein said during the Jan. 10 interview, emphasizing his distaste for DEI in the academy, which appears to remain unchanged.
Bauerlein also explained that while he doesn’t know much about incoming interim President Richard Corcoran, whose contract was recently approved by the BOT on Feb. 13, he believes that Corcoran’s history in Florida legislation could help bring in more applicants and money.
“If he is there for six months and proves to be ineffective, the trustees can let him go,” Bauerlein specified.
Bauerlein has a history working with the Florida government in establishing standards for English-Language Arts curriculum and is a professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bauerlein stated that he believes there is a degradation of the Humanities as an academic school of thought.
“One thing [that] has turned a lot of people away is identity politics,” he said. “It’s not a happy or inspiring approach to great writing or art.”
He also said that “there are certain, empirical trends that have inflicted the Humanities,” and that a collapsing job market for students in the Humanities has really turned away a lot of otherwise interested students.
Bauerlein also shares a common conservative belief that DEI is destroying the academy. For Bauerlein, he sees this as most “insipid” in peer review.
“Peer review, as an academic activity, is supposed to apply academic norms and values, based on the argument and soundness of the conclusion,” Bauerlein explained. “If you apply DEI criteria onto academic material, you have politicized the scholarly material.”
Bauerlein is also known for writing a duo of books called The Dumbest Generation and its sequel, The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. The books focus on how people under 30 apparently aren’t reading enough and have generally rotted their brains through phone screens.
“I wrote books about young people because I want young people to be formed better,” Bauerlein stated, citing the “dumbness” of the younger generations as an inspiration for his involvement in education.
“I care about the minds of young people and that’s why I’m doing all this,” Bauerlein said about his role on the board. “I’m not getting paid for this. I don’t get any money. It doesn’t advance my career.”
Bauerlein praised the unique New College curriculum and declared that “I actually don’t think that we should change the curriculum.”
“We don’t want to change the model of independent study, the agency that students have,” Bauerlein emphasized. “I don’t have plans to change this standard.”
He explained that rather than restructuring the curriculum at NCF, Bauerlein would like to see additions made to the academic tracks, such as a classical “great books track.”
Overall, Bauerlein emphasized improving the number of students, applications and the standard of living at the college, rather than the curriculum itself. He made a point to explain that, due to Florida Sunshine Laws, he could not speak for anyone other than himself and that his goals might not reflect that of other BOT members.
Bauerlein also made an emphasis on wanting to discuss matters with students and faculty directly—especially those that disagree with him.
“Big change in an institution will cause anxiety,” Bauerlein explained, asserting that students need to not let emotions rule over them and should be able to have thoughtful debate when they disagree.
“Don’t just say ‘I think you’re racist!’” he explained, alluding to the public comments made at the Jan. 31 BOT meeting. “Tell me more deeply. Why do you think that?”
“I think a lot of angry students are that way because they think, ‘Well, he’s not listening to me’, and that feels insulting to them,” Bauerlein elaborated, explaining that he would be more than happy to sit down and listen to students, debate with and engage with them.
“I think lines of communications with trustees should be open,” Bauerlein said in an email. “Feel free to give me contact.”
He also expressed an interest in holding a Zoom meeting with students to talk about their thoughts on academics, the BOT, and anything else they might want to discuss with him.
Bauerlein is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he encourages students to reach out.