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New College professors oppose distance learning program

Written by on Saturday, January 20, 2024

In 25-1 vote, they reject lack of involvement, rush, and billionaire’s role.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Jan. 19, 2024

Host: New College professors are giving Richard Corcoran a run for his $1.3 million pay. In another very public clash between the new administration and teachers, the faculty voted overwhelmingly against an online degree program the New College president announced last week in a press conference. Our news team has the details.

Johannes Werner: Last week, New College President Richard Corcoran invited local media to the historic Ringling mansion on campus, announcing the university’s brand-new remote degree program he expects to launch at the end of this month. At his side was Joe Ricketts, the Chicago billionaire and conservative education activist. A promotional video touted a “Ricketts Great Books College” course, featuring the logo of New College.

At the December New College board meeting, faculty Trustee Amy Reid criticized the online degree program, saying it is being put together too quickly, with little information to the professors who are supposed to teach it, and little to no involvement by faculty, who are supposed to be involved in creation of curriculum, according to the standards of the college’s accreditation agency.

The teachers’ unease about the new program came to a head in a faculty meeting this Wednesday. The professors voted 25-1 in favor of a resolution that says they do not support the program.

The resolution says “the proposed online program at New College will provide substandard education and will damage the reputation, educational mission, and functioning of the College”.

It also says the program emerged from “a process that lacked transparency, excluded the faculty, and acceded to the conditions of a donation from a self-interested outside party”.

Bottom line: ” We the Faculty of NCF do not support the online program as currently conceived or its implementation in Spring 2024″.

Joe Ricketts, speaking at College Hall during a press conference last week. Next to him is Richard Corcoran.

In an emailed statement, New College spokesman Nathan March said that, in light of other universities’ offering distance learning programs, it is “illogical to argue New College should not pursue the same avenue”.

He also said that “We are appreciative of our faculty members that are actively involved with the program and are furthering New College by offering virtual instruction. Hard work was required to assemble and launch the first fully virtual degree program in New College’s history, and we will expand upon that work in the weeks and months ahead.”

With the involved faculty members, March likely referred to Dr. David Harvey.

In a press release sent out the day of the Ricketts press conference, New College said that the historian who has been on campus since 2000, will oversee the online program, and that New College faculty will teach it. Harvey was also appointed to head a newly created Center for the Study of Western Civilization.

In a memo to the provost and Corcoran seen by WSLR News, the professors lay out their concerns about the current shape of the program. They say they did not receive any substantial information about the program prior to the last board meeting on Dec. 13. They have been given only “brief presentations” since then.

“This is particularly stunning given that members of the administration are suggesting that a program will launch in Spring 2024 — mere weeks away”, the document said.

Most of the memo consisted of 10 pointed informational questions to the administration.

WSLR reached out to several faculty members. We did not receive any response before deadline.

Jono Miller is a former faculty member who now chairs an alumni-driven organization that has been critical of the “new” New College. He summarized his concerns about the online program in an interview with WSLR’s Steve Norris.

Jono Miller: I don’t know much about the Ricketts Great Books College curriculum. And the reason that’s significant is, neither does the Internet. If you Google ‘Ricketts Great Books College curriculum’, virtually nothing comes up. But New College is proudly going to be using it. So this is a problem in itself. Until it’s proven otherwise, it seems like vaporware. It’s not clear from the announcement the extent to which this is going to be populated with current faculty versus new faculty that are hired. But I can tell you that our current faculty here don’t have any excess capacity, like if they’re going to be taking on responsibilities related to this new program, that’s going to come at the cost of our existing undergraduate program. Because people are full at the moment. This announcement was also alarming because New College believed in shared governance and the fact they are having a large role in determining the curriculum. And whereas one or more faculty may have been involved in this, it’s not clear. It’s clear that the entire faculty was not involved. So that’s alarming.

JW: Disclosure: Jono Miller hosts a public affairs show on WSLR.

This is the second open conflict between the teachers and the administration picked by trustees who were appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis early last year. In May, New College faculty censured then-interim President Corcoran over his decision to not grant tenure to five faculty members.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


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