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New College Board of Trustees takes steps to abolish Gender Studies

Written by on Saturday, August 12, 2023

Taking a significant step in their war against woke, the DeSantis-appointed members of the New College Board of Trustees moved towards making the first cut in the liberal arts college’s academic program, amid accusations of Sunshine Law violations.

By Sophia Brown

Original Air Date: August 11, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Taking a significant step in their war against woke, the DeSantis-appointed members of the New College Board of Trustees moved towards making the first cut in the liberal arts colleges academic program. Sophia Brown was at the trustees meeting Thursday.

Debra Jenks: Any other new business? Guess not.

Amy Reid: This needs to go on the record as the first time this board has made a substantive attack on our academic program. This is a moment that this board needs to weigh.

Host: What you just heard was the tail end of yesterday’s New College Board of Trustees Meeting, and what faculty representative on the board Amy Reid calls the beginning of the end of New College’s academic program as it has been known. Yesterday, the Board of Trustees voted 7-3 to direct staff to take the first steps towards abolishing the Gender Studies program.

The motion, put forward by Trustee Christopher Rufo, tuning in on Zoom, went like this.

Christopher Rufo: I would move to direct the president and staff to take the necessary and proper steps to terminate the Gender Studies program beginning with the 2024 enrollees.

Host: As in, fully eliminated by the next academic year. But it’s not that simple. And even if the majority of the board aspired to eliminate Gender Studies as soon as possible, getting rid of an entire major take some legwork.

Board of Governors regulation 8.012 states that the termination of any degree program must include input from curriculum, financial and administrative councils of the college, must include a safety net for students and faculty active in that program, and must include a plan for handling any potential negative impact on faculty and students. Plus, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the college and the United Faculty of Florida union would need to be consulted, and any students currently majoring in Gender Studies at the time that it would be hypothetically abolished would still be able to complete the degrees that paid for.

But this vote also follows a series of actions by the board that have already disrupted the ways that New College has previously functioned: firing the president and replacing her at almost three times the original salary, and maintaining the salary for her incoming permanent replacement; Abolishing the college’s Outreach and Inclusive Excellence office and firing the college’s sole transgender staff member of color; Denying five fully-qualified faculty members tenure with “extraordinary circumstances” being the only reason and given; And changing the student mascot despite this traditionally falling under the jurisdiction of the student government.

Reid is right and that this is the first vote cast by the board that disrupts the college’s academic program, often regarded as the honor college’s primary appeal. On top of this, Reid accused Rufo of violating the Sunshine Law with this proposal.

Sunshine Law protects the constitutionally guaranteed right of constituents to access governing body’s proceedings in order to prevent fraud or corruption. Ever since this board’s first meeting on January 31, it has been subjected to allegations of Sunshine Law violations, but this was the first time that these allegations came from within the board.

Discussion of eliminating the Gender Studies program was not in the meeting agenda, without any written or supporting materials to back it up. And while the public was not informed about this development, members of the press had been tipped off, either by members of the board or of the college’s administration says Reid.

AR: Personally, I received a phone call at 11 o’clock on Saturday evening from someone telling me of this rumor. I have subsequently been called by reporters and I’ve been contacted by other faculty at other institutions in Florida about this. So I do believe that there was concertation in advance of this motion, and I do believe that that is a violation of the principles of the Sunshine Law.

Host: Student Trustee Grace Keenan backed up Reid’s accusation, which Rufo staunchly denied.

Grace Keenan: For [it to be in] new business with no notice, no documentation, no opportunity for the public to come and make public comments, I think this motion is inappropriate and a violation of Sunshine Law. And so—

CR: [Overlapping] I’m sorry, trustees, is this is a serious accusation? What is your specific evidence that there’s been a violation of Sunshine Law? I can accuse you of violating anything I wish but without such evidence I think that’s a reckless charge to make in a public setting.

Host: General Counsel Bill Galvano told the board that holding a vote on this matter would not violate the Sunshine Law because the vote will not be eliminating the program, only kickstarting the first steps to do so. Even so, how the fact that this vote was coming got leaked in the first place was not addressed and the subject was quickly changed.

From there, Reid—who is also the Director of Gender Studies at New College—was quickly put in the position of needing to defend the program against several unsympathetic trustees. As part of this defense, Reid read a prepared statement on the history of Gender Studies at New College, which was first established in 1995.

The program has historically received little funding or administrative support, but has grown throughout the years due to continued student and faculty interest. Two-to-eight New College students graduate with a degree in Gender Studies each year, and the program hosts various workshops and lecture series along with a student research award specific to the discipline.

Reid also stressed that Gender Studies’ interdisciplinary nature means the faculty in disciplines like Art. Anthropology, Biology, Classics, History, Literature, Sociology and Religion regularly offer “Gender Studies eligible courses.”

AR: When students ask me about the future of Gender Studies here at New College, I generally reply, I and here. And today I’ll add with a nod to Michèle Lalande, the poet of Québec’s Révolution Tranquille, I am not alone.

Host: Reid’s statement received a round of applause from the audience, but various trustees were also quick to voice their critiques. Notably, Trustee Matthew Spalding argued that Gender Studies cannot truly be considered a serious liberal arts program because its interdisciplinary nature means that it is difficult to pin down.

Matthew Spalding: Gender Studies does not grow out of the Humanities, that is crystal clear. It is also doesn’t grow out of the Sciences either, it’s not a scientific discipline. I really don’t see how it fits in in a serious liberal arts curriculum in any way. It’s interdisciplinary, but it’s not the combination of existing actual disciplines like Political Economy. It’s a mishmash of things. You read the website. I have no idea what it’s about.

Host: At one point, Reid accused Interim President Richard Corcoran of promoting an opinion piece to trustees that attacked Gender Studies and directed targeted faculty members, including Reid herself. Keenan asked him to clarify where he stands on the matter.

GK: Mr. Corcoran, what’s your stance on this?

Richard Corcoran: You guys are the trustees and you have this right to decide I think, that—I will absolutely do the will of the motion, I’ll look into it and whatever that process is, and move forward. I don’t disagree with the substance of the comments.

Host: Keenan also suggested that trustees organize information about the Gender Studies program to bring before a subcommittee of the board before they make the proper vote. Rufo accused her of attempting to slow the process down and suggested that she should not be “rewarded” for accusing him of violating the Sunshine Law.

CR: And I think that what we’re seeing over and over from some of the trustees is this attempt to slow down, to delay, to mire in paperwork. I think we all have the information that we need. It’s a simple yes or no question on this. We have to move very quickly because we’re initiating a reform effort.

And I’m less inclined to provide additional goodwill after the two trustees have accused us of violating the law. And I think that that kind of behavior, that kind of reckless and false accusation should not be rewarded by the board. It should actually be quite the opposite. It should be unanimously condemned by the board, provided that the trustees can provide even a shred of evidence beyond what the trustee Reid describes as a rumor.

Host: The motion to begin directing staff to take the first steps to abolish the Gender Studies program won in a 7-3 vote. Trustees Reid and Keenan voted no, and so did Vice Chair Ron Christaldi, but he said that the only reason he did this was because he had stepped out of the room during the majority of the discussion and so felt that he did not have enough information.

It is unclear where these latest accusations of Sunshine Law violations against the board will go from here, and what the future holds for the Gender Studies program. The meeting closed with Reid’s assertion that the board needs to carefully weigh their decisions from here on out.

AR: This needs to go on the record as the first time this board has made a substantive attack on our academic program.

Host: Said Trustee Spalding right afterwards, getting the last word:

MS: It should also go on the record that this, like, diversity, equity and inclusion is a deep violation of our first principles of this college, and as such, we did the right thing.

Host: This has been Sophia Brown reporting for WSLR News.


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