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: May 12, 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 May 12, 2023, administrators at the New College of Florida informed visiting U.S. History professor Erik Wallenberg that the college had chosen not to renew his contract in apparent retaliation for remarks Wallenberg made during a media interview.

In a March 2023 op-ed in Teen Vogue, Professor Wallenberg, the only U.S. History professor at New College, expressed concern about the College’s new direction, in particular the appointment, by Governor Ron DeSantis, of administrators who were “vocal opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and curricula that includes critical race theory (CRT) and gender studies.” During the interview, Wallenberg called New College trustee and conservative activist Christopher Rufo’s behavior towards students “demeaning and rude.” Rufo retaliated on Twitter, including highlighting that Wallenberg was a visiting professor and calling Wallenberg’s position “pure left-wing Mad Libs.” Following the interview, interim New College president Richard Corcoran made the decision not to renew Wallenberg’s contract. The decision contradicted the recommendation of the Social Studies Department, which had been supportive of Wallenberg’s reappointment.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the denial of an otherwise meritorious appointment to a professor in apparent retaliation for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom – including public commentary on one’s own institution – and should employ transparent, fair processes when engaging in disciplinary actions. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.