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UFF Biweekly EXTRA
United Faculty of Florida -- USF Chapter
2 February 2023
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New College in Trouble

Readers may recall that Governor DeSantis appointed six new trustees for the New College board as part of an effort for, as one new trustee put it, "recapturing higher education" from higher educators. The appointments were harshly criticized by faculty, students, and stakeholders in the New College community, while one local legislator told attendees that, "The alternative, the school is going to be eliminated, it will be shut down."

The new trustees came loaded for bear. New Trustee Eddie Speir announced in his Substack blog that among the motions he intended to make was to, "...approve a letter to the new counsel of this board to ask for a legal opinion regarding our ability to declare a financial emergency and employ a zero-based budgeting policy of terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration and immediately rehiring those faculty, staff and administration who fit in the new financial and business model." Notice the presumption that the Board needs a new counsel.

Then came the first meeting of the new board. Former University of Missouri Dean of Arts and Sciences and, until Tuesday, New College President Patricia Okker - who was hired after a national search - was forced out by a 9-3 vote (with the student and faculty representatives among the three, and Board Chair Mary Ruiz abstaining). Then, after no search at all, Okker was replaced by Former Florida House Speaker, former Education Commissioner, and current lobbyist Richard Corcoran [USF login required]. The meeting seems to have been a bit of a spectacle, for Ruiz reacted to the newcomers' antics with, "I would ask trustees in the future to read the packet" sent out in advance to trustees on upcoming meetings. Later, she resigned.

The new trustees did not get all they wanted, and some vowed to carry out their various agendas. Meanwhile students and faculty vowed to continue to fight. But among the reactions nationwide were:

  • Atlantic columnist Tom Nichols wrote that Florida Has a Right to Destroy its Universities, i.e., "If Ron DeSantis wants to gut Florida’s public colleges, that’s up to Floridians." Referring to "Florida’s Soviet Commissars," Nichols wrote that, "Florida’s governor...has set out to ruin one of Florida’s public colleges. He's appointed several board members to the ideologically progressive New College of Florida with, apparently, a mandate to somehow rebuild it and thus save it from its dreaded wokeification. Helpfully for the cause of screwing up a college, most of the new overseers aren’t from Florida and don't live there..." But he concluded that, "Elections have consequences. If the people of Florida, through their electoral choices, want to wreck one of their own colleges, it is within the state’s legitimate power to do so. In fact, Florida could decide tomorrow to amend its own constitution and abolish state universities entirely."
  • USA Today columnist Ingrid Jacques asked, What's the big deal? Noting that, "DeSantis has not hidden his agenda. He ran for reelection last year on an anti-woke platform, aimed largely at the state’s public schools and universities...," and he won by a landslide, which indicates "...that many Floridians support the governor and want to see him follow through on his campaign promises to eradicate 'wokeness.'" She concluded that, "The reality is much of the fuss is unwarranted. No institution can be transformed overnight, and that will be the case with New College. Yet, DeSantis had undertaken an interesting experiment, and one other conservative governors will watch closely."
This calls for a dash of cold water. Academic freedom, diversity / equity / inclusion, and various other targets of the new board are part of the academic marketplace - and parents, potential students, employers, current and potential faculty, and rating services all pay attention to the marketplace. (And various agencies - including accreditors and funding agencies - have requirements. And among the accreditors' requirements is: The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies, and protects the institution from such influence (p. 21).) New College functions very well within its niche - which consists of small, progressive liberal arts institutions. The changes proposed would damage its reputation and standing and compromise its accreditation - and federal money (and a number of other revenue streams) depend on accreditation. There is a real possibility of a trainwreck. And then what? If it loses a lot of students, faculty, administrators, and maybe accreditation and hence federal funding, will it close? Will it be rescued by some - er - benevolent research university interested in a satellite campus? And does any of this worry the people pushing these changes?

This has the markings of a trial balloon, and if it "works" in New College - if the spectacle advances the interests of the people pushing this transformation of one small institution - it will spread. The time to do something about this is now. Come join UFF and join the movement to save Florida higher education.

Chapter Meetings in February

The Chapter Meeting on Friday, February 10, at 12 noon, will be on USF Tampa in EDU415. The Chapter Meeting on Friday, February 24, at 12 noon, will be on USF Sarasota / Manatee in B229. Both meetings will be hybrid, and for those who cannot attend in person, you can contact the Chapter Secretary for a Zoom invitation. For those who show up in person, there will be lunch munchies and drinks.

The calendar of chapter meetings are posted at the Events Calendar. Also posted on the Events Calendar are many other events, such as the Faculty Senate's town hall meetings tomorrow and next week.


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