Guest Column
New College faculty’s ‘censure’ of trustees isn’t even a thing | Column
Instead of passing a resolution expressing their concerns or making recommendations, the faculty styled their disapproval as a “censure,” but it had no legal basis or any authority whatsoever to “censure” the college’s trustees.
Graduates are seen in the recessional during the New College of Florida commencement ceremony on May 19 in Sarasota.
Graduates are seen in the recessional during the New College of Florida commencement ceremony on May 19 in Sarasota. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published July 8

Critics of change at New College of Florida make too much of the recent faculty motion to censure the college’s trustees. Reportedly, the motion carried with 80% support. Saying the faculty was upset by the changes at the college is an understatement.

But a “censure” — what even is that?

Robert Allen Jr.
Robert Allen Jr. [ Courtesy of Robert Allen Jr. ]

A proper starting point might be the New College of Florida Faculty Handbook. In Chapter 3.2 it states that faculty meetings like the one in which the motion was voted on are governed by Robert’s Rules of Order.

So what do the Rules of Order provide with respect to censures? Chapter 15 makes clear that an organization may, in fact, issue censures — but only of its members and officers. Apparently, the proponents of the motion failed to notice the trustees are neither.

In other words, the New College faculty had no legal basis or any authority whatsoever to “censure” the college’s trustees.

Instead of passing a resolution expressing their concerns or making recommendations, they styled their disapproval as a “censure.” Presumably they knew what they were doing and why they did it.

Framing their disapproval as a “censure” would be sure to gain the attention of the national press. Even more so because a faculty censure of a college’s trustees was unprecedented. Of course, having looked at the Rules of Order, it is understandable why it had never happened before — it is a procedural absurdity.

It was what is referred to in law an ultra vires act — something done by a person lacking the authority to do so. But they got what they wanted when the “censure” was widely reported in the media.

Setting aside the impropriety of what was done, it’s worth reviewing the reasons why the faculty was upset as stated in the motion. The principal allegations are:

* That the trustees “don’t care about the college.” One wonders why then the trustees would volunteer to serve? Or does the faculty actually believe the accusations of greed and self-dealing?

* That the trustees have not put the college’s interests above their own and are being controlled by an outside organization. How exactly is getting yelled at and defamed “putting their interests above those of the college”? Further, the allegation of “being controlled” is not atypical of progressive-speak. Anybody they disagree with is regularly disparaged as someone’s puppet or parrot.

* That they are influenced by an “external actor.” It apparently disturbed the faculty that I, a graduate of the school and former trustee, actually share my thoughts with current trustees without denouncing them or questioning their motives. Maybe more of the faculty should try this approach?

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* That trustees Christopher Rufo, Mark Bauerlein and Jason “Eddie” Speir, have undisclosed financial interests. Apparently this accusation is based on the fact that Rufo is a conservative blogger, Bauerlein is a senior editor of an important journal, and former trustee Speir runs a school whose graduating students might chose New College. The accusation is absurd on its face. If any of these trustees had a financial interest — they would be required by law to disclose it and recuse themselves from voting on anything that affected them. On the other hand, doesn’t every single faculty member have an actual financial interest in the college which sends them paychecks?

* That the trustees supposedly don’t pay attention when members of the public come speak before them. Apparently they are supposed to sit expressionless when cursed at and accused of being fascists.

* That the trustees did not accept the faculty’s recommendations for tenure. Perhaps they need a refresher course in what the Faculty Handbook says in Chapter 4.5, which concludes with this statement with regard to tenure: “The final decision rests with the Board of Trustees.”

On reflection, shouldn’t the alleged “censure” been more accurately described as a tantrum?

Maybe instead of again working themselves into a tizzy when they see the trustees making decisions they don’t understand, the faculty should engage with them constructively. This might start with a recognition of the opportunity the college now has as its leadership aspires to make it, in interim President Richard Corcoran’s words, “the best liberal arts college in America.”

Of course, it’s understandable that some — maybe most — of the faculty would be uncomfortable with, some might even fear, a board of trustees serious about fixing what’s gone wrong at New College over the past decade or so, who at least have an idea of how to go about it and who actually aspire to excellence.

False accusations and giving credence to unfounded allegations propagated by radical former alumni who have given more money to oppose these changes than they ever did to making the college better, serve no one’s interest.

The challenge laid out by Corcoran, the trustees and Gov. Ron DeSantis will not be easy to meet. It requires serious people — faculty, administration, trustees and alumni — to work together, for the sake of current students and for those who will be coming in future years. It’s time to set aside differences and get started.

Robert Allen Jr. is a 1978 graduate and former trustee of New College of Florida. He served as parliamentarian of the Young Democrats of Florida and currently serves as chairman of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.