A national faculty union has voted to sanction New College of Florida, saying the Sarasota school’s leaders have imposed “an aggressively ideological agenda” since taking over more than a year ago.

The American Association of University Professors, which has placed 12 other universities on its sanctions list since 1995, pointed to its investigation last year in justifying the addition of New College. The group sanctions schools for violations of shared governance, the principle of joint decision-making between university administrators and faculty.

It pointed to the “unprecedented politically motivated takeover” of New College marked by a “complete departure from shared governance” since Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new members to the school’s board of trustees in January 2023. The board quickly made changes that included replacing the president and eliminating gender studies as a major.

The association said the new board and administration have “thoroughly restructured” academic programs “without meaningful faculty involvement and denied academic due process to multiple faculty members during their tenure applications and renewals.”

A news release Sunday said the committee that authored the report “received ample evidence that these actions have seriously impaired, if not irreparably damaged, the collective and individual functions of the New College faculty.”

The union’s website says sanctions are published “for the purpose of informing Association members, the profession at large, and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic government exist at the institutions in question.” Sanctions can also be removed.

Nathan March, a spokesperson for New College, said in an email that the union “lacks the authority” to issue sanctions and called the announcement “a headline grab, echoing the sensationalistic tone of their report.”

March added: “Their persistent targeting of New College for any change they disagree with is clear evidence that New College is at the forefront of reforming higher education.”

New College of Florida President Richard Corcoran speaks during a press conference before Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation on Monday, May 15, 2023, banning state funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Florida's public universities. The event took place on the school's Sarasota campus.
New College of Florida President Richard Corcoran speaks during a press conference before Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation on Monday, May 15, 2023, banning state funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Florida’s public universities. The event took place on the school’s Sarasota campus. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

In December, New College President Richard Corcoran responded to the faculty group’s report, saying it “does not align with our vision for New College nor the support we experience from our faculty and students.”

“Florida has always valued educational choice and freedom, principles we proudly espouse,” Corcoran wrote in December. Such reports “shed extreme light on the polarized landscape taking place in higher education, and our position on classic liberal arts and educational freedom is a stance on which we will not yield,” he wrote.

Anita Levy, a senior program officer with the faculty association said the committee’s decision was based largely on events that took place in the winter and spring of 2023 and were documented in the report.

The way New College had been operating, she said, “really flies in the face, the way most institutions or reputable institutions of higher education function in this country.”

Ultimately, Levy said, it’s students that will suffer.

“We understand that our organization sanctioning New College and our report on the Florida system may not be taken seriously by the powers that be in Florida,” Levy said. “But many academics are leaving Florida. Many parents are deciding to send their students elsewhere than to Florida institutions, because they understand that the students will not get the kind of education that they deserve when shared governance and academic freedom are limited in this way.”

Amy Reid, the faculty representative on the New College board of trustees, said that neither the sanctions nor the report improve morale.

“New College joins a small club that nobody wants to be a part of,” Reid said. “The situation is dire on our campus. Faculty wants to teach. Students want to learn, and I would wish that our administration would support us in that.”

Katherine Walstrom, chairperson of New College’s faculty union, said the biggest points of contention have been about academic programs, which faculty are hired to deliver.

“When there are big changes like that, it really affects our work situation and the classes we’re supposed to teach, and the people we’re interested in hiring,” Walstrom said. “It works a lot better if there’s cooperation. So it’s a little bit of a challenge.”

Walstrom, who is retiring at the end of the year, said she worries about the future.

“Faculty are leaving New College and it’s not the same place it was to work,” she said. “And that’s going to change the school.”

Only one other Florida school is on the association’s sanction list — Miami Dade College, which was sanctioned in 2000. That school’s administration had implemented a new system of governance overriding a faculty vote.

In addition to New College, the association also announced over the weekend that it had sanctioned Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.