DeSantis appoints 5 to Florida Polytechnic University board of trustees

Two of them are academics known for their criticism of diversity initiatives.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed five new members to the board of trustees at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed five new members to the board of trustees at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Oct. 25, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced five new picks for the board of trustees at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland. The selections include two academics who have courted controversy over comments about diversity initiatives.

The appointments, announced Tuesday, come just months after Florida Poly President Randy Avent said he would step down from the position at the end of the 2023-24 academic year. The timeline echoes recent events at New College of Florida in Sarasota, where a board dominated by six DeSantis appointees quickly hired former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran as president to reshape the school in a “classical” direction, a move that provoked campus protests and faculty resignations.

DeSantis’ picks for the Florida Poly board include Ilya Shapiro, a former Georgetown Law professor who gained national attention after criticizing President Joe Biden’s commitment to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a now-deleted tweet thread, he referred to the eventual pick as a “lesser black woman” who “will always have an asterisk attached” to her name. Shapiro quickly apologized for the tweet, calling it “inartful.”

Shapiro is now a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank that also employs New College of Florida trustee Christopher Rufo. In recent months, Shapiro has criticized diversity programs and the “illiberal” curtailing of free speech on college campuses.

In January, Shapiro and Rufo released model legislation to abolish diversity, equity and inclusion programs from public university campuses, calling them “DEI bureaucracies. The proposed rules largely mirror a recent bill banning Florida public universities from spending money on diversity programs and social activism.

Another appointee, Dorian Abbot, is also a notable critic of campus diversity initiatives. An associate professor of geology at University of Chicago, Abbot has said diversity, equity and inclusion programs are antithetical to equality, freedom of expression and due process on college campuses. “We must fight this ideology forcefully if we want to preserve a free and just society,” he wrote in a recent op-ed.

Abbot pointed to his academic record in an emailed statement, and said he hoped to “help provide oversight to ensure that the students of Florida Polytechnic University get a rigorous scientific education that prepares them for success.”

The other picks include former DeSantis deputy chief of staff David Clark, the chief executive officer of MyGovGuide, a tech firm that offers a “visual breakdown of the state’s budget, organizational structure, and executive teams.“ He’s also a managing partner of the lobbying firm Allegiance Strategies Group.

Logistics entrepreneur Clifford Otto and Sidney Theis, founder of the radar research firm RDRTec, round out the cohort of new trustees, who must be formally approved by the Florida Senate.

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