When I first met Matthew Lepinski, the faculty chair of New College of Florida, he was willing to give the right-wingers sent to remake his embattled progressive public school a chance.
This was in January, a few weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida appointed six activist conservatives, including the culture war strategist Chris Rufo, to New College’s board of trustees. Rufo, the ideological entrepreneur who made critical race theory a Republican boogeyman, was open about his ambition to turn the quirky, L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly liberal arts school into a public version of Hillsdale, a conservative Christian college in Michigan with close ties to both DeSantis and Donald Trump. He hoped the transformation would be proof of concept for his dream: a conservative takeover of higher education across the country.
So when Rufo and another new trustee, Eddie Speir, the co-founder of a private Christian school called Inspiration Academy, arrived at New College for meetings with students and faculty, they were received with skepticism and hostility. But Lepinski, a computer science professor and the faculty representative on the board of trustees, was hopeful that they might figure out a way to work together, and he urged the school community to hear them out.
In the ensuing months, there was concern among Lepinski’s colleagues that he wasn’t doing enough to stand up to their new overlords. “Some of us had been a little frustrated with his willingness to try and play nice,” Amy Reid, a French professor and the head of New College’s gender studies program, told me. But Lepinski believed in dialogue and compromise. “I thought maybe there was a path forward with this board where we could focus on the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us,” he said.
That’s why it was so striking when, at the end of a combative three-hour meeting on Wednesday in which the trustees rejected five tenure applications, Lepinski quit. He’s not just leaving the board, but New College altogether. “I can no longer see a way that I can be effective here, given the current board of trustees,” he said at an impromptu news conference afterward. [Continue reading…]