A Soros-Funded Organization Is Helping A Student Org Defy DeSantis’ Higher Education Reforms

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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UPDATE: This article has been updated to more clearly reflect that D.E.F.Y.’s scholarship program, while listed on their website, is still currently in development. 

A network funded by philanthropist George Soros is working with a coalition of students, parents, alumni and allies intent on defying reforms pushed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Defending Educational Freedom for Youth (D.E.F.Y) is a grassroots coalition “who are organizing to Defend Educational Freedom after [DeSantis’] hostile partisan takeover of New College,” according to its website. The organization holds a speaker series about “defending educational freedom and building social movements” that partners with Open Society University Network (OSUN), which was established by George Soros, who funds multiple progressive causes, in 2020 through a $1 billion endowment, according to Open Society Foundations. (RELATED: Former DeSantis Education Commissioner Appointed As Interim College President)

“D.E.F.Y. is developing a series of programs and initiatives – starting with a New College Charter Chapter of D.E.F.Y. and expanding across Florida and nationally –to fight back against the Rick [sic] DeSantis’s and big government attacks on educational freedom,” the organization’s website reads. “Help us build a movement to keep partisan politicians (and their politics) out of our nation’s classrooms.”

D.E.F.Y also offers a DeSantis DEI Scholarship for “exceptional current and future gay, trans, LGBTQ and BIPOC students of New College as an act of defiance,” according to its website. It is also working to begin a legal defense fund and organize “Days of Defiance.”

DeSantis appointed six conservative members to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees in January. The trustees terminated former New College President Patricia Okker during the Jan. 31 meeting and appointed former Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran as the interim, and voted on Feb. 28 to abolish the office that advanced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

The first Soros-backed talk was held on March 10 and featured Michael Ignatieff, former rector and president of the Central European University (CEU) and New College students, according to the D.E.F.Y website. CEU was founded by Soros, according to the university website.

“DeSantis has a lot of money behind him; I think with a lot of money behind us, we’ll win,” Joshua Epstein, a New College student and D.E.F.Y organizer, said during the session, according to Times Higher Education. “We’ll strike back, and I think he’ll be sorry that he picked on us.”

Ignatieff alleged DeSantis is using New College to bridge his run potential for president in 2024 and that his actions mirror those of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who pushed the university out of Budapest, according to Times Higher Education.

The series is also produced in part by Bard College, which is reportedly an OSUN partner. Jonathan Becker, vice-president for academic affairs at Bard College, said that D.E.F.Y is not funded by either OSF or OSUN, Times Higher Education reported.

“Defy is a student and alumni group with which OSUN partnered,” he said.

D.E.F.Y, OSUN, New College, the DeSantis administration and Ignatieff did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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