Just over a decade ago, New College was caught in a limbo of uncertainty about its future. A separation from USF had been proposed and as far as anyone knew, everything was up in the air. Anxiety among the student body was immense, with questions about the school staying open or its capacity to run itself floating around. This anxiety is captured in Towne Meeting minutes from March 13, 2001, printed out from an MSN email account where the minutes were documented.
Present from the Executive Committee of the time – today’s Executive Cabinet – but with titles unlisted were Molly Robinson, Andrew Hossack, Michelle Brown and Emily Mead. They presented the Towne Meeting with the news that New College had three options on the table: keeping the status quo, granting New College greater autonomy in the University of South Florida (USF) system, or a total separation from USF. “Plan three might present difficulties drawing in faculty because a lot of faculty are drawn in by the USF name,” Robinson reported.
No student or faculty input had been requested at the time, the Towne Meeting said, before beginning to take audience questions.
One unidentified student asked, “How feasible is separation? Will the lights be on when I come back to visit New College?”
An administrator identified as “Bassis,” who was present to answer students’ questions, responded to the student with “The situation is so complex that no one can really say at this point.”
Other questions included what benefits the separation would bring, when a decision would be announced, whether or not the school would become a university, how they would obtain accreditation, whether the separation could impose new academic guidelines such as language requirements on the students, and why the legislature was interested in separating New College from USF.
Bassis responded to student questions, but the responses all fell along the same lines: “I don’t know.”
The decision to separate took place almost entirely at the legislative level, according to Bassis who reported that they appeared to be “entirely uninterested in faculty opinion,” and could only guess at why legislators were interested in separating New College. “We don’t know for sure [why they made this move]. There was the feeling that a major research university tends to neglect its branch campuses – the ‘trickle down’ effect.”
Anxiety about the survival of New College has been present since the school’s opening, when dorms were uncompleted, classrooms unprepared, and faculty left in droves. For a school that had only had a history of being threatened, the separation – which nowadays is remembered as a successful attainment of independence that welcomed the school into the State University System and granted New College the status of the official Honors college of Florida – was a terrifying and murky prospect.