In January, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis began an attempt to transform New College of Florida, a small public liberal arts college known for its left-leaning student body into a much more conservative "Hillsdale of the South." So far, his plan seems to be working.
As Michelle Goldberg detailed in a New York Times column on Monday, not only has the gender studies department been dissolved and a third of faculty have left the school, but the university's new leaders have also made the school more male.
"This is a wildly out-of-balance student population, and it caused all sorts of cultural problems," Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who was recently appointed to the college's board, told Goldberg, adding that the new administration is "rebalancing the ratio of students" to achieve equal numbers of male and female matriculants.
While the college has typically been around two-thirds female, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that the male population has skyrocketed in the incoming class—increasing a staggering 23 percentage points to now comprise 54 percent of the class.
This massive change has largely been achieved by aggressively recruiting athletes. Previously the school had no formal athletics program. Now, they make up over a third of incoming freshmen. While it's unclear just how many of these athletes are male, it's worth noting that baseball—which alone comprises 60 percent of incoming student-athletes—is a male-only sport. And Rufo affirmed the ideological drive behind the decision to expand athletics, telling Goldberg that the school introduced an athletic program in hopes of making its student body more male—and therefore more conservative.
As the male population at New College has increased, admitted students' academic performance has also declined. The incoming class has lower test scores and GPAs than last year's incoming freshman—with the average ACT score down to 24 from 27 last year. Student-athletes scored a paltry 22 on average, yet received merit scholarships at a higher rate than other students.
The demographic overhaul at New College of Florida is perhaps the first real-life attempt to counteract the so-called "feminization" of education—an increasingly popular theory that blames the ascension of illiberal social justice politics in universities on women's domination within campuses and in college bureaucracies.
Never mind whether young women are actually that much more liberal than their male counterparts—despite such claims, only 30 percent of 12th grade girls identified as liberal, according to a recent survey.
But even if one accepts the premise that female-led institutions are more left-wing than male-led ones, New College's response—to engineer a more conservative institution by reducing female participation in it—is inherently in conflict with the strong defense of meritocracy and opposition to affirmative action espoused by Rufo and his allies.
Young women are outpacing their male counterparts in the academic sphere; girls now comprise roughly 60 percent of college students. While young men's failure to academically compete with their female classmates is worth our concern, the solution is not to lower the bar for men to obtain collegiate gender parity (something many selective colleges have been quietly doing for years). Nor is the solution to an illiberal left-wing campus culture to engineer a more male—and supposedly more conservative—student body.
Support for meritocracy means nothing if you're willing to discard it support of a favored demographic group. If you're going to make overtures to classical liberal ideals like the "equal treatment of individuals, regardless of race, sex or other characteristics," as Rufo wrote last month, you ought to be willing to live with its consequences.