Earlier this week, MSNBC released a documentary about the reforms at New College of Florida titled The War on Woke. The film would more accurately be described as part of MSNBC’s ongoing war on truth. As a trustee of New College, I feel obligated to respond to three accusations in the film that are false and misleading.
First, MSNBC host Alex Wagner claims that New College has recruited a disproportionate number of student athletes, enticed them with generous scholarship offers, and, despite an all-out effort to build a new baseball team, “doesn’t have a baseball field for them to play on.” The intention of these claims is to discredit New College; it is also driven by the same spirit of resentment against men, athletes, and conservatives captured in a recent New York Times headline about the changes: “At College Targeted by DeSantis, Gender Studies Is Out, Jocks Are In.”
None of these charges holds merit. The proportion of student athletes at New College is in line with other liberal arts colleges. It is standard practice for athletic programs to use scholarships to recruit potential students. And the baseball field accusation is simply false: according to New College baseball coach Mariano Jimenez, the college has struck an agreement to use the fields at IMG Academy, a Division I-level athletic facility near the New College campus—a fact that Jimenez directly communicated to the MSNBC producers, who ignored it to advance their narrative.
Second, MSNBC would like viewers to believe that academic life at New College is in chaos. Amy Reid, the gender studies professor whose program is being terminated, complained that “it’s going to be hard for the college to continue without the dedication and expertise and investment of time and energy of our tenured faculty members.” New College parent Tracy Ferro claimed that the school had no academic advisor for marine biology and “not one class for marine bio that was being offered” for her daughter.
These accusations also don’t square with the facts. Reid wants viewers to believe that New College was previously an academic utopia, but during her 28 years as a faculty member, the college’s standings plummeted across all metrics, leaving it as the lowest-performing public university in Florida. Yes, nearly 40 faculty members have departed, but this is a positive development: administrators can now recruit new faculty better suited to restoring the school’s classical liberal arts mission.
Meantime, Ferro, who has earned a reputation around campus for shouting at trustees during board meetings, is peddling an outright falsehood. According to academic administrators, the school has three academic advisors in marine biology and offered multiple courses in the subject this semester, including “Marine Mammal Biology,” “Fish Biology,” and “Introduction to Oceanography.” Ferro seems to have a vendetta: she claims to have slept in a hotel room near campus for months, researching the new trustees, including me, and promising to undermine us—so far, without success. As one can see in the documentary, New College police officers have had to remove her for disruption of a board meeting. Yet, MSNBC portrays her as a hero, rather than a gadfly.
Finally, MSNBC would like to pull its viewers’ heartstrings with the story of former student Libby Harrity. Last spring, at the end of a bill-signing event with Florida governor Ron DeSantis that mandated reforms to all of the state’s public universities, Harrity screamed epithets at trustees, demanded that I “suck [her] tranny dick,” broke through a police cordon, and spat on me. The state attorney filed first-degree battery charges against her, and, as part of a negotiation with the school administration, Harrity voluntarily withdrew from the college.
Nevertheless, MSNBC wants to portray Harrity as a martyr. “This entire situation has turned my life upside-down. This has been incredibly traumatic,” Harrity told the producers. “I have been forcibly removed from the place that has been more my home than any other place in the entire world.” This framing is preposterous. Harrity was not “forcibly removed” from campus; she voluntarily withdrew. She is not a free speech martyr; she is a young woman whose violent actions yielded predictable consequences. As I told MSNBC: “We are establishing a new standard of civil discourse at New College, and there will be no tolerance for politically motivated violence on campus.”
The War on Woke neglects to ask one essential question: Why is the left-wing media paying such close attention to the minutiae of a small public university in Florida? Answer: because the reforms at New College represent a threat to left-wing hegemony over academia. If conservative reformers, led by Governor DeSantis, can lay out an alternative vision, build new programs, and recruit students in greater numbers than before—something that even MSNBC had to acknowledge—then other conservative states might follow suit.
New College is a prototype. That’s why the propaganda against its turnaround has been so ferocious. Left-wing activists cannot bear to let even one small public university on the Gulf Coast of Florida deviate from the current academic orthodoxy. If New College succeeds, maybe the rest of the dominos will start to fall.
At the end of the MSNBC film, the camera focuses on a group of student protesters who shout in call-and-response style: “Whose school? Our School!” But this, too, is wrong. The people of the State of Florida—not left-wing activists—are the ultimate authority over the public universities. The project to reclaim that authority has begun.
Photo by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images