A Florida nonprofit seeks in a new lawsuit the call logs and texts of one of six conservative trustees recently installed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the state’s most progressive higher education institution.
New College of Florida, a liberal arts university on Sarasota Bay, home to around 700 students, has made headlines in recent weeks following an overhaul of the institution’s leadership.
Several of the new DeSantis-appointed trustees are vocal opponents of gender- and race-related education issues that have fueled the governor’s so-called culture wars in schools — and now they have top roles in an institution popularly known for being a haven to the LGBTQ community.
The newly remade board of trustees voted last week to give the Sarasota school’s interim President Richard Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker and state education commissioner, a pay bump of nearly $400,000 over his predecessor.
On Tuesday, the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonprofit that focuses on securing access to public records, filed a lawsuit in Sarasota County against New College and Christopher Rufo, one of the new trustees and an activist credited with turning critical race theory into a conservative rallying cry. The organization’s attorneys also made a motion requesting an immediate hearing to make their case.
In the suit, the center alleges that New College hasn’t fulfilled, denied nor asked for more information about their Jan. 23 request for the call logs and texts of Rufo’s cellphone, which include those made and received from his personal devices. The suit also warns that time is of the essence because, absent a civil action, state law allows the disposition of records 30 days after an information request is made if a local government agency asserts that the solicited documents aren’t subject to public inspection.
Michael Barfield, the center’s director of public access, told the Miami Herald that the organization has additional pending information requests involving five other board members. The five other newly appointed trustees are Matthew Spalding, a government professor at a conservative Christian college in Michigan, Charles Kesler, Mark Bauerlein, Jason “Eddie” Speir and Debra Jenks.
“We hope to find out more about recent events that have shaken up the campus at New College,” Barfield said. “We anticipate adding those board members to the lawsuit as early as next week.”
When asked why the center is asking for Rufo’s call logs and texts on his personal phone, Barfield noted that Rufo didn’t have an official email account or agency-issued cellphone immediately after he was appointed on Jan. 6. For that reason, he said, the center is demanding the release of Rufo’s call logs and texts during a 17-day period in January.
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New College and the Manhattan Institute, where Rufo is a senior fellow, didn’t immediately respond to the Herald’s emailed request for comment.