Ron DeSantis touts Florida's education system, slams 'woke' academia in Sarasota address

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed an audience at Sarasota’s New College of Florida Saturday in a speech that touted the state’s educational accomplishments and reforms and bashed the “woke” stranglehold on academia.

“In the last 5½ years, there’s been no state that has done more to reform and improve education. … We took on school choice. We made sure schools were open during COVID, battling school unions, all this stuff. So it was really, really good.”

New College of Florida, the state’s liberal arts honors college, has been the site of a contentious power struggle between the previous school administration and the governor, which has seen DeSantis seek to remake the institution in the image of Michigan’s Hillsdale College. 

In January 2023, DeSantis appointed a new slate of six board members, including outspoken activist and DEI and critical race theory critic Christopher Rufo.

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DeSantis praised the school makeover, arguing “it was so much about ideology. You know, no accountability, no grades, none of this other stuff. … This is a public institution. And we have, not only a right, we have an obligation to make sure that our public institutions are serving the best interests of the state of Florida.”

The governor aimed his fire at using public resources for what he construes as ideological indoctrination.

“If you want to go be on some Marxist commune, if that’s what you want to do with your life, who am I to say? But I don’t want the taxpayers of Florida funding that. So, we made some big changes. … What’s in the best interest of the state of Florida. And I think what you’ve seen, I don’t think you’ve seen more dramatic improvement at any other institution.”

DeSantis argued the new vision for the school is akin to the educational philosophy of the nation’s great writers and thinkers at the dawn of American democracy.

“The mission is, we want a liberal arts education that is rooted in the Western tradition — a classical education similar to what our Founding Fathers had when they went to universities. That is something that I think will attract people not just throughout Florida, but throughout the country. 

“I think there are a lot of parents, especially with what you see going on in some of these other university campuses. … Now, the insanity in universities is not new, but … since [the Hamas attack on Israel on] Oct. 7,” people see “how insane this has become.”

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Referencing the nationwide campus protests over the war in Gaza, DeSantis contrasted Florida’s public education system with perceived Ivy League permissiveness and promised to deal with disruptions with a firm hand.

“Letting the inmates run the asylum doesn’t work. So, you’ve seen a sickness in these universities. … I’ve talked to people who are very, very high up in finance and all these other things. But [with respect to education] you’re better off in Florida than Columbia or Harvard. … Now they’re saying that, people.”

DeSantis has been a leading critic of left-wing bias on university campuses and has frequently butted heads with the state’s educational establishment.

“What you’re seeing in academia is what happens when leftist ideology infects an institution. It corrupts the institution. … You know, the problem is, the left infects corporate America,” DeSantis said. “It corrupts when it infects academia. It corrupts when it infects the medical [establishment]. … When it affects corporate media, it corrupts.

“Now you have the BLM riots — remember a few years ago? — and you have a reporter from CNN standing in front of buildings burning saying that it’s a mostly peaceful protest. So, the facts are totally out the window. It’s ideology.” 

The governor then pivoted to the state’s pandemic policies, castigating the nation’s medical establishment for corruption and following a political agenda rather than science.

“[During the pandemic], ideology had trumped evidence-based science. … There was an agenda, and they were playing on a team. And you saw the corruption in that. You saw … the mutilation of minors. That is not consistent with the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, cut off somebody’s private parts who is 14 years old. … And not very many Western countries have indulged in this. Only here you see this … corruption of the medical establishment.”

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Finally, the governor credited Florida’s COVID policies with sparking a massive influx of people and investment in the state as blue state residents tired of bigger government, lockdowns and higher taxes.

“Of course, we bucked the consensus on COVID. And, you know, Florida, when COVID started, we were doing well as a state. Most people would prefer to live in Florida than with the governments of California, New York, Illinois then, for sure. But the contrast with how we handled COVID versus them is it sparked a massive infusion of people, investment, businesses, unlike what really any state has ever seen.”

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