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: April 26, 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 April 26, 2023, New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees denied the tenure requests of five New College of Florida professors in an act that was apparently politically motivated.

Prior to the April 26 Board of Trustees meeting, New College interim president Richard Corcoran reportedly sent a memo asking the board to deny or defer the tenure requests of the five professors due to “current uncertainty of the needs” of the university. During the meeting, Corcoran noted that seven faculty members had originally been up for tenure but ultimately two withdrew their applications as he requested.

Four trustees voted to approve the professors’ tenure, including Grace Keenan, the student-body president trustee, and Matthew Lepinski, the faculty trustee. Six trustees, all politically appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, rejected the tenure requests, some suggesting that they had made that decision because each of the five professors was in their fifth year at the university. Most faculty are available for tenure only in their sixth year at New College.

Prior to the decision, colleagues and students at New College had positively endorsed the five professors’ application for tenure.

The decision not to approve the five professors’ tenure, comes after the firing of the University’s President Patricia Okker (see SAR report) and Yoleidy Rosario-Hernandez, the college’s top diversity officer, who lost her position when the university closed the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the refusal of otherwise widely supported meritorious promotions to professors in apparent reprisal for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and differing political ideologies. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, denial stemming from such activity undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.