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New College of Florida says sanctions placed by a faculty organization are a 'headline grab'

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New College of Florida
A nationwide faculty organization is placing sanctions on New College of Florida for not meeting standards for acceptable working conditions. A special report released in Dec. 2023 criticized the school for not involving faculty in a number of decisions — including the selection of new Board of Trustee members, the firing of its previous president, and the elimination of DEI and gender studies programs.

The American Association of University Professors has placed sanctions on New College of Florida for "unacceptable conditions" for faculty. School officials call the announcement a "headline grab."

A nationwide faculty organization is placing sanctions on New College of Florida for not meeting standards for acceptable working conditions.

The American Association of University Professors criticized school leadership for its "unprecedented politically motivated takeover" and implementing "an aggressively ideological agenda, marked by a complete departure from shared governance."

"The board of trustees and administration thoroughly restructured the college's academic offerings without meaningful faculty involvement and denied academic due process to multiple faculty members," the AAUP wrote in a press release Monday. The group researches higher education and working conditions of educators nationwide.

An in-depth AAUP report on the state's academic freedom released in Dec. 2023 detailed events at the small Sarasota liberal arts school beginning in Jan. 2023.

"Governor (Ron) DeSantis appointed a number of new board members at New College, who then proceeded to terminate the appointment of President Patricia Okker," AAUP Senior Program Officer Anita Levy said.

"And from there went on to mandate a number of changes, including the elimination of the Gender Studies program, the elimination of the DEI office, the institution of numerous athletic programs, (all) without meaningful consultation with the faculty," she added. The Board of Trustees voted in Aug. 2023 to terminate the Gender Studies program, beginning with 2024 enrollees.

Levy said when a school is added to the group's sanctions list, the goal is to work with school administrators to come to a resolution and remove them the list. The AAUP has sanctioned 14 schools since 1995.

"In this case, it would require instituting meaningful shared faculty government at New College of Florida, which would be a process that might take some time given the way in which the Board (of Trustees) has kind of run roughshod over the faculty," she said.

The school rejected the group's announcement.

"The AAUP lacks the authority to sanction New College of Florida, or any college or university for that matter. The recent announcement from the AAUP is a headline grab, echoing the sensationalistic tone of their report issued over two months ago," spokesperson Nathan March said in a statement to WUSF.

New College President Richard Corcoran responded to the December report, saying AAUP's findings and the school's vision do not align.

"Reports such as the AAUP’s shed extreme light on the polarized landscape taking place in higher education, and our position on classic liberal arts and educational freedom is a stance on which we will not yield," he wrote.

But former New College professor Elizabeth Leininger said there's been a breakdown in the collaboration between administrators and faculty at the school — and that has led to the departure of people like herself.

"Something that people don't understand is that faculty, as some of the longer standing employees of a college, hold a lot of institutional memory about how the college works, how governance of the college works, (and) how the curriculum works," she said.

She added that ultimately, the people who suffer the most in this situation are the students.

New College's faculty chair Amy Reid said she's glad the AAUP chose to look at what's going on, not just at her school, but in higher education in Florida.

"And while no one wants to be put on their sanctions list, I recognize the reasons why they chose to do so," she said.

Reid, director of the school's Gender Studies program, said the sanctions are more of a moral statement to let the public know New College violated academic principles.

"The only players who can change what's happening on the ground are our administration. I really hope that the administration will step up and begin to work more closely with faculty in order to support and strengthen our academic program," she said. "If the administration wants to be the best liberal arts college in the country, they need to work closely with faculty to realize that vision"

In addition to New College's sanctions, the AAUP also placed sanctions on Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.