We write in response to two columns by Robert Allen Jr., which appeared in the June 22 and July 8 editions of the Tampa Bay Times.
Though Allen declares that we are “reading too much” into a DeSantis official’s assertion that New College of Florida is being transformed into the “Hillsdale College of the South,” he nevertheless goes on to extol Hillsdale’s virtues in considerable detail. He lauds Hillsdale’s embrace of a core curriculum and what it maintains is a “classical education.”
In fact, one might think Allen’s column is not about New College at all but actually a covert advertisement for Hillsdale, a private conservative Christian college located in Michigan.
Now contrast that with New College, Florida’s public honors college — emphasis on the word public.
Although Allen states that it would be illegal for New College to promote one religion over others, we note that New College’s interim President Richard Corcoran is narrowly focused on recruiting athletic coaches drawn from evangelical schools such as Bob Jones University, Liberty University and Bradenton’s Inspiration Academy.
Simultaneously, Corcoran is busy enrolling students recruited from Christian private and charter schools with decidedly fundamentalist orientations.
So, although we think of public institutions as being subject to the full protections of the First Amendment, Corcoran and his minions are plowing forward with a nod-nod, wink-wink strategy to not so subtly tilt New College in a fundamentalist Christian direction.
Not only does this subvert First Amendment protections but it places a chill upon the aspirations of non-fundamentalist students who may wish to attend. It’s clear to us that Mr. Allen is fully aware of Corcoran’s bias.
In his June 22 column, Allen incorrectly claims that there’s been too much focus on LGBTQIA+ students and their unique concerns. That said, we observe that Gov. Ron DeSantis has passed laws and stoked fears about the LGBTQIA+ community. We disagree sharply with his fear mongering and feel that LGBTQIA+ students are very much deserving of protection, affection, admiration and praise.
To be blunt, it isn’t easy to be LGBTQIA+ in DeSantis’ Florida. For the past 60 years, New College has been a place of acceptance of and respect for members of the LGBTQIA+ community though they’ve not received any special treatment — other than the right to exist as themselves and to attend college just like everyone else.
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DeSantis, Corcoran and their minions seem to prefer that such students go into hiding — or exile.
These individuals belong to cohorts who are among the most likely to face discrimination, violence and even death.
Their safety and survival are seriously compromised by DeSantis and his supporters. So this is not simply a pedantic argument.
But LGBTQIA+ students aren’t the only people who are more fearful. In his July 8 column, Allen takes aim at the New College faculty.
Seeing their president fired, their DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) officer fired, the head research librarian fired and five of their colleagues denied early tenure, it’s quite understandable that the remaining New College faculty is fearful of what fate might befall them.
Seeing those individuals and many other senior staff members consistently replaced by people associated with the Florida Republican Party or by rightwing and/or avowedly Christian actors doesn’t bring confidence that the new administration is working to improve New College.
Under such conditions, it is perfectly natural for the faculty to have shot back by censuring the board of trustees for its heartless actions.
Mr. Allen maintains that there is “no such thing” as censure of the trustees by the faculty — but the fact that there is no mechanism for faculty to officially object to the behavior of the trustees appears to him to be irrelevant.
If the faculty have no official means to register their collective objections, a vote to censure is as good a method as any to make their displeasure known.
In their attempt to change the essence of New College, DeSantis and Corcoran have demonstrated a ruthlessness that feels like a hard punch to the gut. So, we ask: How have DeSantis, Corcoran and their minions made New College of Florida a better place?
Steve Jacobson graduated from New College in 1975, and recently retired after a 44-year career at Northwestern University that included overseeing the school’s cryogenics facility and teaching design and prototyping to engineering students.
Herb Guggenheim graduated from New College in 1978 and is a retired writing teacher and clinical social worker. He is an author whose work includes the novel “Resurrection 2020″ published last year.