SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 31, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):New College of Florida

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 31, 2023, the board of trustees of the New College of Florida voted to fire its President, Patricia Okker, in apparent retaliation for her support for teaching of topics including critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In the board meeting during which she was terminated, Okker spoke out about the conservative direction the University was going in, calling it a “hostile takeover.” A number of faculty, students, and community members also expressed their outrage and defended Okker, who had signed a 5-year contract in 2021. The contract reportedly stipulated the college had the power to terminate her with six months notice and a two-thirds board majority. While 9 out of the 13 members voted to fire Okker, Grace Keenan, New College’s student-body president was among the trustees who argued that Okker should be able to keep her job, noting the students’ disagreement with the termination.

Just prior to Okker’s firing, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed six new members to the Board of Trustees, saying he wants to reshape New College to be the “Hillsdale of the South,” a private conservative liberal arts college in Michigan, and reject “trendy” political views. Days later, Okker was replaced by former Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, another De Santis appointee.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the termination of a scholar in apparent connection with comments made about the university and university policy. Higher education authorities have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://thecapitolist.com/richard-corcoran-to-lead-new-college-after-president-patricia-okker-sacked-by-board/
https://floridapolitics.com/archives/585024-trustees-fire-patricia-okker-as-new-college-president/
https://www.chronicle.com/article/after-condemning-trendy-ideology-in-higher-ed-floridas-governor-targets-a-small-college
https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2023/01/31/change-comes-swiftly-new-college-desantis-appointees-replace-president/

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El 31 de enero de 2023, el consejo de administración del New College of Florida votó el despido de su presidenta, Patricia Okker, en aparente represalia por su apoyo a la enseñanza de temas como la teoría crítica de la raza y la diversidad, la equidad y la inclusión.

En la reunión del consejo en la que fue destituida, Okker se pronunció sobre la dirección conservadora que estaba tomando la universidad, calificándola como hostil. Varios profesores, estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad también expresaron su indignación y defendieron a Okker, que había firmado un contrato de 5 años en 2021. Al parecer, el contrato estipulaba que la universidad tenía potestad para despedirla con un preaviso de seis meses y una mayoría de dos tercios del consejo. Aunque 9 de los 13 miembros votaron a favor de despedir a Okker, Grace Keenan, presidenta del cuerpo estudiantil de New Colleges, fue una de las que defendió que Okker debía conservar su puesto, señalando el desacuerdo de los estudiantes con el despido.

Justo antes del despido de Okker, el gobernador Ron DeSantis nombró a seis nuevos miembros del Consejo de Administración, afirmando que quiere remodelar el New College para convertirlo en el Hillsdale del Sur, una universidad privada conservadora de artes liberales en Michigan, y rechazar las opiniones políticas de moda. Días después, Okker fue sustituido por el ex Comisionado de Educación de Florida Richard Corcoran, otro designado por De Santis.

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) is a member of the Coalition for Academic Freedom in the Americas (CAFA), and partners with CAFA on Americas-focused monitoring activities. Relevant incidents, with factual details translated into Spanish, appear on both SAR and CAFA websites.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) es una institución que integra la Coalición por la Libertad Académica en las Américas (CLAA). SAR trabaja junto con la CLAA en el monitoreo de situaciones en las Américas. Los incidentes relevantes que reportamos, con descripción de hechos detallados en español, aparecen tanto en los portales de SAR como de la CLAA.