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Staff and administrative turnover at New College raises concerns

Written by on Wednesday, June 28, 2023

School may be out for the summer, but staff and administrative turnover at New College is causing concerns from faculty about instability.

By Sophia Brown

Original Air Date: June 23, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Instability is worrying many at and around New College, the small public university in Sarasota. Following the appointment of New College’s conservative majority Board of Trustees, a hot topic this spring was whether the college’s primarily LGBTQ+ student population was going to stick around. But now that summer is here, staff and administrative turnover has emerged as the main point of interest. With Interim President Richard Corcoran involved himself directly in hiring administrative personnel, this raises questions from faculty about stability going forward. Sophia Brown has that story.

Host: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many staff vacancies the college still has. As far as faculty is concerned, Associate Professor of Biology Liz Leininger estimates that 10 to 15 people have jumped ship. At least those she’s aware of.

Liz Leininger: I don’t know if anybody knows that for sure. I think that we won’t really know that until the end of the summer, because I suspect that some folks are still searching.

Host: Not all of these faculty vacancies are due to new leadership at the college. Some faculty members have retired or going on leave for the upcoming year or have left due to rising costs of living in the Sarasota area. However, Associate Professor of Sociology and Caribbean and Latin American Studies Sarah Hernandez says that by comparison, far more administration employees have left the college since January when the new leadership took over. That includes most of the Communications and Marketing department, most of the Student Affairs department, several staff in the Provost’s office and in the Admissions department and others who have worked in the campus’ library to name a few.

New College has been the setting for a handful of dramatic or otherwise disruptive exits from faculty and staff this past semester. There’s former Associate Professor of Computer Science, Matthew Lepinski, who had also been the Chair of Faculty and the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees. He publicly announced that he would be leaving the college on April 26, at the very end of a board meeting, right after five of his colleagues had been denied tenure and cited his lack of faith in the board to have the best interests of the institution in mind.

There was also former Associate Dean of Academic Engagement and librarian Helene Gold, who was abruptly fired three weeks before the end of the semester with “reorganization” being the only reason provided. Gold was also one of the few openly LGBTQ+ staff members of New College.

One of the earliest staff members to leave was former Provost Suzanne Sherman, who had also taught chemistry at the college for over 30 years. She stepped away from New College in March and was also one of the few staff members known to criticize the trustee. She had told Trustee Christopher Rufo that he was putting the campus community, quote, “at risk,” by bringing his media team to campus in late January to film students.

Meanwhile, others are taking on more responsibilities. Two staff members who have worked closely with Interim President Corcoran have been given further oversight at the college. Brad Thiessen who had been the interim president for about a month before Corcoran, is now also Interim Vice President of the Student Affairs department, Interim Provost and Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs, according to New College’s administrative organization chart, last updated on May 18. He had been assigned those last two roles by Corcoran.

There’s also Christie Fitz-Patrick, who is the Board of Trustees liaison, responsible for managing information between the board and outside communities or governmental bodies. She is also the Associate Vice President of Government Relations, an office where she is the only member, and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President. That last position was also given to her by Corcoran in April.

For Dr. Hernandez, it’s odd that one person would oversee multiple departments like this. It’s also odd that Interim President Corcoran appears to have played such a large role in orchestrating this, even if some reorganization is normal.

Sarah Hernandez: It is my understanding as of now that Corcoran has attempted to have a very heavy-handed, much more micromanagement approach. So as of now what I’m hearing is that he’s deciding on every single one of those lines.

Host: Dr. Leininger theorizes that this sort of restructuring stems from a lot of uncertainty over what positions the school might hold on to and which ones it might discard.

LL: I think that if they were to hire replacements for some of those positions, but they’re also at the same time possibly reorganizing, then you wouldn’t want to bring someone in and then realize we don’t want that role.

Host: Attempting to fill positions internally by having current faculty who are already familiar with the institution take on a role is also a challenge for the college right now.

LL: Frequently in the Provost’s Office, some of these hires may be external. So we’ve had Provosts who are external, as well as Provosts who are internal. We have staff in the Provost’s office who were hired externally, some of whom were hired internally. And so, certainly for the internal roles in such a sort of state of flux right now, it can be hard to recruit faculty who might want to step into those roles given the general uncertainties.

Host: External hires seems to be the direction that Corcoran is headed in. On Tuesday, New College’s Office of Human Resources announced eight new administrative hires, all external to the college. These new hires will be filling recently-vacated positions in the Office of Finance and Administration, Academic Affairs, Communications and Marketing and the New College Foundation, the college’s direct support organization. Dr. Hernandez says that a large batch of external hires like this isn’t typical for New College, which instead usually seeks internal hires to fill interim positions while the search for a permanent replacement is launched.

SH: I mean, things are shifting. I do not know even if they announced the search committees or anything publicly, right? So I don’t know how that fits in terms of what the rules are. But maybe if you’re just hiring somebody, if the president decides that he’s gonna hire somebody, he can do that on his own without having to have a committee or have any kind of public notice. But as of now, it seems that this is just something that he’s doing on his own. Behind the scenes.

Host: Dr. Leininger said that despite this rapid overturn in administration, she hopes that faculty and staff can continue to collaborate going forward, although there hasn’t been a very strong track record of this so far.

LL: For any well-functioning university or college, the administration and the faculty should be working together. So the administration has certain roles and responsibilities and expertise, and the faculty have certain roles and responsibilities and expertise. And in best case scenario, the administration and trust the faculty and the faculty trust the administration, and we allow each other to do our work and communicate with one another. Ultimately, for the benefit our students.

Host: This was Sophia brown with WSLR News.


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