The New College of Florida’s board of trustees on Thursday voted to end its gender studies major following a tense public meeting that saw four members of the public removed from the premises by police. The vote comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)—who’s long overseen a crusade against free speech in education—appointed roughly half of the 13-member board in January, as is within his power as governor.
Among DeSantis’ appointees is Christopher Rufo, the far-right activist credited by the New Yorker with “inventing the conflict” targeting critical race theory and creating racist panics in school districts across the country. In March 2022, Jezebel reported on Rufo’s misinformation and hysteria campaign that led to a group of Appalachian sex educators being forced to hide in safe houses.
Rufo, who joined the meeting via Zoom, abruptly proposed ending the gender studies major at New College of Florida as an addendum toward the end of Thursday’s meeting, which had largely been dedicated to interviewing candidates for the university’s next president. Rufo characterized the gender studies major as “wildly contradictory” to the board’s mission to “revive a classical liberal arts agenda,” per the Tampa Bay Times. He called for the board to direct the school’s next president to eliminate the program starting with the class enrolling in 2024.
The request by Rufo was challenged by the student body president, Grace Keenan, who has a seat as the student voice on the board. Keenan sought to open Rufo’s request to public comment from students and also criticized his approach to making the request. Faculty trustee Amy Reid, the director of the gender studies program, argued that Rufo had violated the state’s open meetings law by informing some trustees but not others about his plan to propose ending the gender studies major over the weekend. In response, Rufo insisted that “we need to move very quickly” with ending the major and said he was “less inclined to extend goodwill” to Rufo and Keenan in retaliation after they questioned his possibly illegal tactics.
When Reid offered impassioned remarks about the importance of her program, the Times reports that Rufo could be seen visibly laughing at her. “When students ask me about the future of gender studies at New College, I generally reply ‘I am here,’“ Reid said. “And today I’ll add with a nod to Michele Lalande, the poet of Quebec’s “Revolution Tranquille,” ‘I am not alone.’”
Matthew Spalding, another board member appointed by DeSantis this year, called gender studies “more of an ideological movement and academic discipline” and insisted that faculty simply teach about gender within disciplines like history, psychology, and biology. The Washington Post reported in January that Spalding creates a curriculum “that is centered on Western civilization,” which is designed to help “students acquire a mature love for America.”
Reid and Keenan were among just three board members who voted against ending the major, which was supported by the university’s interim President Richard Corcoran, who said he would follow the directive.
The New College of Florida’s gender studies program is small, graduating two to eight students each year, per the Times. Reid told the board that over 40 students enrolled in Introduction to Gender Studies last year. Her program, which only employs Reid as a full-time staff member but includes numerous courses taught by professors in other departments, also supports student research projects and offers feminist workshops and talks.
In addition to ending the university’s gender studies major, the board moved to revamp the school’s curriculum broadly to focus on “logos” and “techne,” Greek terms for “words” and “technology.” The new curriculum will mandate that students learn about topics like Homer’s Odyssey and “data,” in what sounds like a shift toward emphasizing Western philosophy—a focus often supported by right-wing opponents of so-called “critical race theory.”
New College of Florida’s board of directors’ decision comes amid an increase in violent threats against feminist activists and academics. Earlier this year a Canadian university saw a gender studies class victimized by a knife-wielding attacker who was specifically seeking out a gender studies class. A study from last year found that anti-feminist digital spaces are becoming increasingly radicalized and violent. And, of course, feminist activists and academics’ critical scholarship and contributions to academia and society have always been belittled by conservatives.
That Rufo would laugh in the face of a gender studies professor defending her work, and then threaten to retaliate against Rufo and Keenan for not being nice to him, gives it all away: It’s all just another stunt to demean and de-platform women and feminist teachings.