The New College of Florida Board of Trustees, which is predominantly composed of appointees selected by Governor Ron DeSantis, has chosen Interim President Richard Corcoran to serve as the permanent leader of the esteemed liberal-arts institution. This decision has initiated negotiations for an employment contract, with Vice Chairman Ronald Christaldi tasked with handling the details of the agreement. In July, the New College Presidential Search Committee had approved a salary range of $487,000 to $868,000 for the position.
Among the three finalists for the presidency were Tyler Fisher, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida specializing in modern languages and literature, and Robert Gervasi, a former interim president at the University of Mount Union in Ohio. However, it was Corcoran, a Republican former state House speaker and state education commissioner, who secured the position. Throughout his tenure as interim leader, Corcoran has overseen significant changes within the institution. These changes encompassed increased funding from the Legislature, the establishment of athletic teams to enhance enrollment, and the closure of a department handling diversity, equity, and inclusion matters.
The board members cast their votes through a roll-call process, with ten out of the twelve trustees supporting Corcoran. Amy Reid, a trustee representing New College faculty, voted for Gervasi, while Grace Keenan, the student member of the board, voted for Fisher. The trustees who endorsed Corcoran are mainly individuals appointed by Governor DeSantis earlier this year. They believe that Corcoran will further the joint initiatives undertaken by him and DeSantis to transform the institution.
Joe Jacquot, a trustee and former general counsel for the governor during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighted Corcoran’s effective leadership as education commissioner throughout the crisis. Jacquot commended Corcoran for skillfully managing the diverse school boards across the state and successfully implementing federal regulations and new state statutes.
Matthew Spalding, another trustee appointed by Governor DeSantis, emphasized that Corcoran possessed the most suitable qualities to fulfill the objective of “restoring the mission” of the New College. Following his selection, Corcoran, who currently occupies a seat on the board as interim president, did not deliver a speech to the board members.
Before the vote took place, Keenan shared feedback from students that was gathered during open-office hours. According to Keenan, the students’ top choice was Fisher, who impressed them by engaging in personal conversations. Gervasi ranked second, but Keenan noted that students found his vision for the school to be unclear. In contrast, Corcoran received the lowest ranking from students. Keenan expressed disappointment that Corcoran, as interim president, had not made an effort to engage with students regarding the presidential search.
Reid, the faculty representative, also voiced her opposition to Corcoran’s selection. She acknowledged his political connections and the financial support he had brought to the campus but criticized his failure to foster consensus among the faculty in recent months.
Members of Save New College, a group that opposes the efforts of Republican state officials to transform the institution, held a rally before the trustee meeting to caution against Corcoran’s permanent appointment. Sophia Brown, a New College graduate and community outreach consultant for the free-speech organization PEN America, suggested that the college should search for leadership elsewhere. Brown called for a leader who could create opportunities for different types of students without discriminating against others and who did not have an overt political agenda.
Ultimately, Corcoran’s selection as president will require approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors.