The Founding of New College

By | November 9, 2013

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New CollegeDuring the mid-1950s, when new universities were sprouting all over the country, Sarasota County yearned for an institution of higher education that would be as unique as the community itself. Sarasota’s local promoters for a ‘new’ university were concentrated in its Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber leadership referred to Sarasota as “a college town without a college” according to Furman Arthur (New College: The First Three Decades).In 1956, efforts launched with an announcement of the State Legislature’s plans to create a university for Florida’s west coast. Though Chamber members ardently tried, political and demographic factors led the plans to be developed in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area – and the school later became the University of South Florida.

Next, Sarasota’s freshly formed “College Committee” arranged to meet with the United Church of Christ’s Board of Home Missions (BHM). The UCC was a Christian denomination that had raised $4 million for its Higher Education Fund. The committee met with the BHM on January 23, 1959 at the Palmer First National Bank. Sarasota fit the church’s profile for assistance – a blossoming southern community with a culturally active citizenry and high percentage of high school graduates continuing on to college. On April 23, 1959, a public meeting in Sarasota’s Civic Center drew an audience who reinforced the committee’s intent to begin designing the school with the BHM. In December the BHM gave its formal approval and agreed to the suggested campus site next to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport.

The temporary name New College grew increasingly permanent with every meeting the “New College Council” completed. Board members liked this name not only because of its reference to New College of Oxford University, but also because it reflected the innovative ideals of an individually composed academic program that focused on mastery instead of competition. Incorporation papers were filed at the Capitol in Tallahassee on October 11, 1960 and the name became fixed. A board of 18 trustees was created with six becoming key players in the later development of New College: Howard Spragg (Treasurer, BHM), Wesley Hotchkiss (General Secretary, BHM), Benton Powell (President, Palmer First National Bank), George Baughman (Vice President, NYU), David Lindsay (President, Lindsay Newspapers, Sarasota), and Phillip Hiss (Architect and Chairman, Sarasota County Board of Public Instruction).

With the growth of a newly founded, named, and developed college, the trustees were left with the large burden of funding. Before long, Treasurer Powell reported that the cash balance of the college was less than $3500. With the BHM offering $50,000 annually, New College looked to the community to help fund its most crucial moment. Powell instituted a series of signature loans, guaranteed by local citizens and reported on July 1, 1968 a financed budget of $68,000.

Waterfront properties just north of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art including the Charles Ringling estate were purchased in late 1961. On July 21, 1961 Spragg held a large press conference in a boardroom at New York University and announced the founding of the college and the name of the first president – George Baughman. A native of Tampa and graduate of UF’s Law School, Baughman was an experienced college administrator and Chairman of the board of trustees for a church in Short Hills, New Jersey.

The New York Times devoted a long story to the college, while Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Jo-Ann Price wrote that classes would begin in 1964 with projected enrollment reaching 1,200 students. In the beginning of September, the College had acquired a waterfront campus, a fund-raising council, and a funded budget for the first semester. Committees were hard at work to find an academic dean and campus architect.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!

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