Richard Corcoran makes a pitch to remove ‘interim’ from his title as president of New College of Florida

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Richard Corcoran
Richard Corcoran speaks to press after addressing the Tiger Bay Club in West Tampa // Chris Young /WMNF News, 9/15/23

By Ryan Dailey ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — New College of Florida Interim President Richard Corcoran on Thursday made his case to students and employees as he tries to get the job on a permanent basis.

The Sarasota liberal arts school, which has undergone a controversial overhaul in recent months, wrapped up candidate forums for three finalists vying to become president. Dean of Students David Rancourt said the New College Board of Trustees is expected to make a decision on the president during an Oct. 3 meeting.

Listen to more: Richard Corcoran duels with Tampa Tiger Bay Club members over New College of Florida’s conservative makeover

Corcoran, a former Republican state House speaker and education commissioner, became interim president in February after former President Patricia Okker was ousted. The change came quickly after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a slate of conservative members to the Board of Trustees.

Also vying to become president are Tyler Fisher, an associate professor of modern languages and literature at the University of Central Florida, and Robert Gervasi, a former interim president at the University of Mount Union in Ohio. Fisher and Gervasi answered questions submitted by students, faculty and staff members during sessions earlier this week.

Corcoran on Thursday spoke about wanting to pump up enrollment and increase fundraising.

A Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter was denied entry to the forum

Corcoran said an incoming class of 325 students this academic year broke a school record. The incoming class was bolstered by the creation of athletic teams at New College. Corcoran said if he is selected to become president, he would aim to continue the growth of incoming classes.

“So if we do have a class of 500 or 400 and we do have the highest scores ever in the last decade, those are the two goals … and we’ll achieve both, make no mistake about it because we have this whole year of recruiting when that happens and we go to Tallahassee or … private donors and say we’d like money, it makes it very very easy,” Corcoran said.

The increase in enrollment hasn’t come without growing pains. Corcoran acknowledged a campus “housing crisis” that was “born, number one, from growth.”

“And it’s going to be exponentially more difficult next year,” Corcoran said.

Despite the potential difficulties, Corcoran described himself and all New College employees as recruiters of new students.

New College’s presidential search and other changes at the school have received heavy attention amid efforts by DeSantis and other state leaders to remake the public university system’s smallest institution. Corcoran’s interim presidency has received pushback from numerous students and faculty members during sometimes-tense trustees’ meetings.

The three finalists have been interviewed by the Board of Trustees. The trustees’ pick will need final approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Fisher, during a forum Wednesday for faculty and staff, billed himself as a leader who could bring the campus community together.

“I would be that kind of empathetic leader who exercises equanimity while also trying to inspire the college with a very challenging yet optimistic vision for its future,” Fisher said.

Gervasi, during candidate forums on Tuesday, drew on his experience as “an experienced college president of a small liberal arts college.”

“A person who understands and is committed to the classical tradition and is committed to innovation in higher education. A person who is both an internal and external bridge builder, in all honesty, I don’t think there’s any contest. I think you should hire me,” Gervasi said.

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