The GOP’s hostile takeover of Florida higher education

Next time may be the charm for Richard Corcoran.

No doubt the former Speaker of the Florida House expected to be president of Florida State University. And why not?

FSU had already hired one ex-Speaker, John Thrasher. It was Corcoran’s turn.

But things got complicated.

Corcoran sits on the State University System’s Board of Governors, raising conflict of interest questions. And it didn’t help his cause when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), FSU’s accreditation agency, questioned the search process.

Long story short, FSU ended up with a Harvard hand-me-down instead of a hard-nosed Florida pol. So Corcoran went back to doing what he does best – bullying school systems for resisting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “freedom to infect” dictates.

Now Corcoran has resigned to “spend more time with his family.” That’s pol-speak for “await the next opportunity.”

The next opportunity may well be at the University of Florida, in Tigert Hall. And if Corcoran does apply he’ll face fewer obstacles this time.

One, he is no longer education commission. Two, the Legislature just took university presidential searches out of the Sunshine. And three, it prohibited universities from being accredited twice in a row by the same agency.

If you think that’s targeting the meddlesome SACSCOC, it is. Not only did that group monitor FSU’s presidential search, but then it had the gall to investigate UF’s assault on academic freedom.

No more meddling for accreditation’s sake (Oh, and welcome to Florida, Accreditations R Us).

And never mind that monkeying with accreditation will damage a university’s eligibility for federal funds and deny its students financial aid. The potential loss of billions of federal dollars is a small price to pay to keep Florida “the freest state.”

Plus, DeSantis can fix that when he’s in the Oval Office.

By the way, there is some irony in the Legislature exempting presidential searches from the sunshine.

When Corcoran failed to make the final cut at FSU, his supporters complained that the winnowing was done…you guessed it…in secret.

“These discussions were all in private, and there was no public vote to rank any candidate or cut all the rest of the candidates…” complained one Corcoran backer.

If DeSantis signs the bill, all future presidential searches will be secret right up until three finalists are announced. We can’t even know who else applied, let alone why they were rejected.

A Nobel Prize laureate? A Fortune 500 alum with a Midas touch for fundraising? None of our business.

When UF’s final three are announced, it’s a lead pipe cinch that one or more will be from the DeSantis camp. If not Corcoran then a clone.

After that the final decision rests with UF’s Board of Trustees…gubernatorial appointees all.

Listen, DeSantis and his acolytes are mounting a hostile takeover of Florida’s university system. They aim to control what and how faculty teach, undermine tenure and rig the game to ensure that their own operatives are in charge.

They aren’t going to stop. And they think they’ve salted the judiciary with enough like-minded judges that litigation doesn’t worry them.

Only the people of Florida can stop them come the next election.

That is, if Floridians care enough to protect the integrity of what has taken decades to build – a university system that most states can only envy.

DeSantis thinks Florida voters only want to “stop wokeness.” I only hope voters are awake enough to prove him wrong.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at ron@freegnv.com

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