More than one-third of New College of Florida faculty will not be returning in the fall.
That’s according to Provost Bradley Thiessen, who called the 36 departures in a single year a “ridiculously high” number for a school with fewer than 100 full-time teachers.
Some of those were retirements or sabbaticals that were planned long before the school made national headlines in January, when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six trustees with a mission to transform the small liberal arts school.
But many are teachers and researchers who — frustrated and dismayed by the school’s new leadership — saw no other option but to resign or take leave to look for opportunities elsewhere.
Biologist Liz Leininger started looking for a new job the same day the new appointments were announced, and the decision to leave was cemented weeks later when the trustees fired former president Patricia Okker in their first meeting.
“I felt a little guilty to be leaving,” Leininger said. “I want to support New College students, but I told them, ‘I can support you even from afar.’”
Leininger took a job as chairperson of neuroscience at St. Mary’s, a public honors college in Maryland. But with her departure, New College’s neuroscience department shrinks to just one faculty member, down from three the year before.
That leaves students like Alaska Miller, a third-year cognitive science major, with few options. There are no upper-year neuroscience classes offered in the fall, she said. Until the school hires more faculty, it’s impossible for her to move forward with her degree.
“That means either I don’t graduate on time or I’d have to abandon my major,” Miller said. Switching to another field means giving up on her dream of pursuing a graduate degree in neuroscience, and she cannot afford to transfer to another school out of state.
The unprecedented wave of departures has left the New College scrambling to plug holes in its waning course catalog. Thiessen acknowledged at a board of trustees meeting on Monday that the school would have to cut back on some poorly attended classes, but promised that all required classes would still be offered in some form or another.
“The majority of faculty who have left have not given us any kind of consideration, or notice, or thought or anything,” interim president Richard Corcoran said at a July 6 trustee meeting. Long-term hiring decisions in academia typically take a year or more, and with this year’s hiring season long gone, the school will rely on temporary positions to fill the gap.
New College has already recruited 10 new visiting faculty, with another six positions still under negotiation, Thiessen said. The school will be launching a visiting “presidential scholar” position and hopes to recruit notable scholars to fill the position on a temporary basis.
Ian Hodgson is an education data reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.