By Diane Roberts
Republicans are scared. They’re scared of citizens voting, so they make it as difficult for us as possible. They’re scared of women taking charge of their own bodies, so they demand the right to track their movements and seize their medical records in case they go to another state for an abortion.
They’re scared of vaccines and drag queens and climate scientists and Brown people and Black people and gay people. They’re so scared of “the libs” they make up demented stories about Democrats drinking the blood of children. Trumpist fixer and convicted felon Roger Stone says he heard there might be a “demonic portal” churning in the air above the Biden White House.
You’ll be delighted to hear that PolitiFact checked out the hellmouth claim and rated it “False.”
Most of all, they’re scared of higher education. Colleges. Universities. Known hotbeds of wokery, Marxism, and foreign languages, they should instead focus on the one thing that matters to real Americans: training future cogs in the uber-capitalist machine and sports.
OK, that’s two things, but the only people who’ll care are woke math profs. The point is the mini-Mussolinis who run Florida see higher ed as a threat which must be neutralized. And what better way to control Florida universities than to install one of their own at the head of each one?
A Fine mess
Which brings us to Randy Fine.
Not that you want to be brought to Randy Fine, a Republican state representative from Brevard County: No one does. Fine has the personality of a fire ant and behaves like a hyena with a bad hangover. He bullies. He belittles. He is — and this is an impressive accomplishment — the most appalling person in the Florida Legislature.
In 2019, Fine wanted to shut down the University of Central Florida for up to 10 years. UCF was indeed guilty of using operating funds for new building, but such a douche move would have left 68,000 students without a degree program.
When the Brevard Zoo offended him by choosing to stop hosting political events, he pulled $2 million from them in the state budget. He has threatened money for the Special Olympics over a feud with a school board member he called a “whore.”
Last spring, Fine informed the universe that Ron DeSantis had “approached” him about the job. The governor’s office said he’d be a “good candidate.”
Right. Like Ted Bundy would be a “good candidate” to administer a convent.
But when FAU announced their three finalists — the dean of FSU’s College of Business, the former chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and a vice admiral who’s superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy — somehow Randy Fine’s invitation had got lost in the mail. Or got eaten by a rabid iguana. Or something.
He was not invited to the dance.
Well, the DeSantis junta wasn’t about to stand for that show of professional independence. University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues sent a letter to FAU’s search committee declaring the state is “investigating” FAU’s process, claiming “anomalies,” including a non-binding straw poll that asked members to rank their top six candidates and, even worse, a questionnaire offered (not required) by the search firm asking about sexual orientation, gender, and “preferred pronouns.”
As we all know, pronouns are for perverts.
Rodrigues’ accusations are as thin as a piece of cheap cellophane and far more transparent.
The search firm’s questionnaire is standard practice to gather demographic information. And as for criticizing the secrecy of the straw poll, give me a break. Thanks to the likes of Rodrigues and his gubernatorial master, the entire process is secret.
If you suspect the wholesale politicizing of higher education might be a bad idea, you’re not alone. Experts in university governance say the way Ron DeSantis demands trustees and college presidents be loyal foot soldiers in his power-grabbing army “streamlines corruption.”
Now, thanks to a law antithetical to Florida’s once-proud tradition of open government, proceedings are closed. Only the names of finalists are made public.
The drawbacks are obvious: Former U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Somewhere in The Midwest, and now president of the University of Florida, was the only finalist for that job.
Sasse is also a wholly-owned subsidiary of the governor and UF board chair Mori Hosseini, provider of private jet rides (plus that fancy golf simulator) to Ron DeSantis, a builder of ugly beige houses, and a ravager of Florida’s environment.
DeSantis’ other pet picks include Rep. Fred Hawkins, a one-time rodeo cowboy, now president of South Florida State College. He has no advanced degrees, no experience in education. In 2020, he was arrested for impersonating a police officer.
Like Sasse, Hawkins was the only finalist for the job.
Richard Corcoran, the allegedly “interim” president of New College of Florida “served” (if that is the right word) on the university system oversight board. An irascible former speaker of the Florida House as well as former Education Commissioner, he’s also a charter school zealot who seems actively hostile to academic freedom. Of course, he owes his job to the reactionaries Ron DeSantis hand-picked for the New College Board.
The trustees fired New College’s president and installed Corcoran at more than twice her salary.
It is a sort of consolation prize when FSU refused to put him on their presidential short list.
Corcoran now presides over the destruction of the once highly rated liberal arts school, clamping down on subjects he deems “woke,” introducing athletic scholarships, and denying tenure to expert faculty.
How’s that going? To date, New College has lost around $30 million in donations, and more than one-third of New College’s faculty have resigned, retired early, or taken leave to look for other jobs. More will follow.
As top professors stampede toward the exits, Corcoran pouts: “The majority of faculty who have left have not given us any kind of consideration, or notice, or thought, or anything.”
Dang those selfish eggheads, bailing out of an institution run by a cabal of hacks and ideological harlots actively hostile to education and terrified of ideas. How could they!
Back at FAU
Meanwhile, back at FAU, faculty, students, and alumni are furious that the school’s leadership has been placed in limbo. Dick Schmidt, a Boca Raton financier and philanthropist, and member of the FAU search committee, says he feels “personally outraged and slandered” by Rodrigues’ letter questioning the integrity of the process.
Schmidt is one of FAU’s biggest donors.
As for Randy “Hissy Fit” Fine, we don’t know for sure that he applied for the FAU gig. It’s a secret. He’s filed to run for the state Senate in 2024, but odds are good that if he ends up leap-frogging the actually qualified finalists and offered the FAU job, he’ll take it.
DeSantis will insist his boy continue the work of alienating donors and wrecking intellectual freedom in Florida while drawing a fat salary.
One word of caution to the ruling junta: Florida’s college students are not idiots and they’re not ignorant. They’re not Moms for Liberty. Their feelings aren’t hurt by U.S. history and they’re aware not only that the climate crisis is real, they know Florida will go down first.
They don’t like being lied to. They’re also pretty pissed off.
New College trustee and Reichsjungendführer fan boy Christopher Rufo discovered that the youth aren’t just going to lie back and take it one day as he strolled the Sarasota campus with his security detail.
Protesting against his contempt for her school and her very existence, sophomore Catherine “Libby” Harrity allegedly, as he said, “broke the police line and spat on me.”
Rufo, clearly terrified of the several dozen middle-class kids, some of them with sinister rainbows on their shirts and hats, tweeted that he intended to press charges.
Don’t these radicals know that human spittle will melt a snowflake?
No consideration, no notice, no thought.
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books.