The New College of Florida trustees dominated by conservatives appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis chose a new mascot Thursday for the Sarasota school: The Mighty Banyans.
The tree mascot will replace one that has been in use since 1997, which is the mathematical formulation of the Null Set. That's usually expressed as "( )" and was viewed by many students, faculty and alumni as perfectly suited to the quirky, historically progressive college that doesn't use traditional grades.
This new mascot features a brown, fierce-looking banyan tree with “arm” branches raised in a muscular flex pose. It does retain the Null Set brackets as eyebrows and sports a leafy hairdo. New College is adorned with banyan trees big enough for a person to climb inside on its bayside campus.
“It needed to be something uniquely New College," said interim President Richard Corcoran.
Among many changes under the new trustees, New College is upgrading its sports teams to include baseball, softball, soccer and basketball, Corcoran said. Mariano Jimenez, a former coach at Team USA Baseball and former sports agent, has already been hired as athletic director and baseball coach.
Yet even this decision was not without controversy. Trustee Grace Keenan, president of the New College student government, criticized the process as leaving out too many students and others who would want input into choosing a new school mascot.
“There are a lot of hurt feelings as to how this has gone down. It’s not a good look," said Keenan, noting the design by a student was just unveiled Thursday.
Corcoran, however, said he has discussed the mascot with numerous people over the past weeks. Corcoran also circulated a survey that included 16 choices for a mascot, ranging from Sea Turtles to Gamechangers, although the list did not include Mighty Banyans.
“It’s not like there hasn’t been conversations and inclusion," he said.
New College has become the focal point of a campaign by DeSantis, who last week announced he is running for the Republican presidential nomination, to rid higher education in the state of he calls left-leaning “woke” indoctrination on campuses.
The new trustees previously terminated the school’s president in favor of Corcoran and scrapped the college’s small office of diversity, equity and inclusion. Later, the trustees denied tenure to five professors despite criticism that such a move poses a threat to academic freedom.
Keenan said the trustees missed a chance to build bridges with students, faculty and alumni by pushing forward with the mascot vote.
“We’re trying to develop relationships, and trust and credibility. I think something like this is where we can collaborate,” she said.
Curt Anderson, The Associated Press