New College of Florida trustees Christopher Rufo, Jason ‘Eddie’ Speir…

Jack Stripling

“We’re going to liberate the campus,” he told reporters. “We’re going to liberate administrators. Were’ going to liberate faculty from the cultural hostage-takers.”

The two forums held Wednesday were the first public opportunities for people at New College to hear directly from Rufo, a conservative firebrand who is known for his deep skepticism of the kinds of diversity and inclusion programs that are popular at New College and across higher education. Rufo was joined on the dais by Jason “Eddie” Speir, another incoming trustee and co-founder of a Christian school in Bradenton, Fla.

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Tensions have been running high since the trustee appointments were announced. That feeling was exacerbated before the proceedings, when Rufo told attendees that the college had received a death threat against Speir. Rufo assigned without evidence probable blame for the threat to the board’s liberal critics.

Catherine Helean, a spokeswoman for the college, confirmed in an email that the college had “received what were perceived to be credible threats.” The campus police are investigating, she said.

The threat, which Speir said came in an email to the college, appeared to set off a disagreement between the trustees and the college’s administration about whether it was safe to proceed with the forums. In an email to campus on Wednesday morning, Suzanne Sherman, the college’s provost, told students, faculty and staff to “refrain from attending” the events. “We prioritize keeping your community safe,” she wrote.

Rufo described the administration’s position as “cowardice” and said it should factor into the board’s decisions about whether the college needs new leadership.