As of July, New College had 328 incoming students, a record for the school. Of the group, 115 are athletes, and 70 were recruited to play baseball, even though, as Walker reported, New College has no real sports facilities and has yet to be accepted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. By comparison, the University of Florida’s far more established baseball team has 37 student-athletes.
The accommodations offered to New College’s new student-athletes will be better than those provided to many existing students. Walker reported that the incoming class will be housed in newer, apartment-style dorms that in the past were reserved for upperclass students. Returning students are being moved to older, more decrepit buildings, two of which recently were declared uninhabitable because of a mold problem. (New College has said it won’t put students in mold-affected rooms.)
Some new students may well end up immersing themselves in the great works of the Western canon. But last week, New College’s interim president, Richard Corcoran, a longtime Republican politician who served as DeSantis’s education commissioner, sent a memo to faculty members, proposing new majors in finance, communications and sports psychology, “which will appeal to many of our newly admitted athletes.” As Amy Reid, a New College professor of French who directs the gender studies department, said when I spoke to her last weekend, “Tell me how sports psychology, finance and communications fits with a classical liberal arts model.”
Rather than reviving some traditional model of academic excellence, then, it looks as though New College leaders are simply trying to replace a culture they find politically hostile with one meant to be more congenial. The end of gender studies and the special treatment given to incoming athletes are part of the same project, masculinizing a place that had been heavily feminist, artsy and queer. When I spoke to Rufo last weekend, he offered several explanations for New College’s new emphasis on sports, including the classical idea that a healthy body sustains a healthy mind. But an important part of the investment in athletics, he said, is that it is a way to make New College more male and, by extension, less left wing.
In the past, about two-thirds of New College’s students were women. “This is a wildly out-of-balance student population, and it caused all sorts of cultural problems,” said Rufo. Having so many more women than men, he said, turned New College into “what many have called a social justice ghetto.” The new leadership, he said, is “rebalancing the ratio of students” in the hopes of ultimately achieving gender parity.