New College of Florida Interim President Richard Corcoran [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]

New College of Florida trustees should defer or outright deny tenure to five faculty members at their next meeting, Interim President Richard Corcoran said in a memo obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The memo, which was included in the tenure applications circulated to trustees last week, marks the first public statement Corcoran has made on the issue. He previously requested in a private meeting that faculty members withdraw their applications for tenure, which the Times first reported earlier this month.

Trustees will decide whether to grant tenure to the five at their next meeting on April 26. The names of the five faculty members have not been publicly released.

Corcoran laid out his reasoning for halting the tenure process in the memo, citing “extraordinary circumstances” including “a renewed focus on ensuring the College is moving towards a more traditional liberal arts institution” and “current uncertainty of the needs of the divisions/units and College.”

Corcoran’s highly unusual memo comes in the midst of contentious reform at New College. The public honors college made national headlines in January when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new members to the school’s board of trustees with a mandate to overhaul the school by offering a more “classical education.”

Critics of DeSantis, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have rallied around the school’s students and faculty, decrying the use of the school as a backdrop for the state’s culture wars.

Faculty union president and chemistry professor Steven Shipman said Corcoran’s latest move may have violated the school’s collective bargaining agreement with faculty, which requires that tenure applicants get five days to respond to any new material added to their applications.

The memo exacerbates faculty leaders’ concerns over Corcoran’s involvement in the tenure process. Tenure protects faculty from political meddling in their research, teaching and activities outside the classroom — and it is increasingly being scrutinized in Florida.

“These cases are going to be viewed as important indicators of how faculty will be treated going forward,” Shipman said. “I expect there will be dramatic changes in how faculty respond to the vote.”

Neither Corcoran nor New College of Florida representative Christie Fitz-Patrick returned multiple requests for comment.

The five tenure applications had already been approved by all levels of the school’s academic administration, including Corcoran’s interim predecessor Bradley Thiessen and then-provost Suzanne Sherman. The only remaining step was approval by the school’s board of trustees.

All five candidates are requesting tenure one year early — an unusual distinction reserved for exceptional candidates or unusual circumstances. If their applications are deferred or denied at this month’s board meeting, they may still be eligible for tenure next year, Shipman said.

In his memo, Corcoran added that the tenure decision should be delayed due to recent turnover among trustees and school leaders. In January Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six trustees in the pursuit of overhauling the struggling liberal arts school.

In their first meeting, the new trustees ousted former president Patricia Okker, making way for Corcoran to step in as interim president. Sherman, the former provost, also stepped down last month.

One of the DeSantis-appointed trustees, Emory University professor emeritus Mark Baurlein, said that neither Corcoran’s letter nor the changes in school administration should impact trustees’ evaluation of the candidates.

“I am operating completely independently of Corcoran’s memo or anything else that is going on at New College,” Bauerlein said, adding that he intends to take an active role in discussing the candidates’ merits for tenure with his fellow trustees.

“Denial of early tenure is in no way prejudicial to how I would vote next year,” he said.

Ian Hodgson is an education data reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.

Education data reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.