Tag Archives: Ron DeSantis

black bar

Academic Fiefdom

Young scholars will have to decide if they want to risk their academic careers in states where politicians are happy to be at war with the traditions of a liberal education.

Academic Freedom is under threat in a number of states, most notably in Florida. A person only needs to look as far as a recent gathering of the reconstituted Board of Trustees at New College, a small public liberal arts campus in Sarasota.  Recently, and in just a few seconds, the conventions of shared governance with the faculty and administration were trashed.

The video of the trustee meeting that resulted in a barrage of dismissals is a heartbreaker: the equivalent of vandals ransacking a gallery of carefully curated paintings.  The names of five scholars were proposed to the board for tenure: the most momentous event in an academic’s work history. All were summarily rejected, in spite of the support of their Department and their disciplinary counterparts from other campuses. Those who saw their careers ransacked in an instant came from the fields of oceanography, chemistry, Latin American Studies and music. In seconds, and with no debate, the life-altering decision that they prepared for over decades was rendered. They did not achieve the vote of confidence that at most universities is pro-forma at this stage.  A Board’s vote is normally the final step of a rigorous peer-review process after exhausting years of individual preparation.

A tenured position is the most significant hurdle for a scholar set on  making their mark in a chosen field.  Tenure at a reputable school requires years of research or writing, and usually a clear record of achievement in the classroom. An individual professor reaches this decision point usually between the ages of 30 and 40. It is the single best shot at a full career: a knife edge decision-point that is the stuff of nightmares and dreams. Many who fail to secure tenure are looking at a lifetime on the margins of academic life, with too little time for research and too many large classes to manage. Without tenure, limited contracts are offered, usually without the chance to become a meaningful force in the life of their department.

The newly reconstituted New College Board was chosen by a governor known to be intent on punishing the College for its reputation as a progressive bastion. That explains why the President was fired and the campus diversity office was closed. It has since become clear that an obscure religious school in Michigan is to be the model for New College. Like it or not, the school’s faculty have found that they are suddenly on a train that has left the main line for a sidetrack headed into the backwoods of nativist thinking.

It is good to remember that tenure is given to academics to allow them to pursue their chosen scholarship without pressure from college and departmental bureaucracies. When working properly, it should be enough to defeat attempts to silence teachers with the kinds of gag orders favored in Florida. In the same way, tenure at least indirectly protects students who can expect an expanded horizon of ideas to be explored.

Popular narratives like to poke at tenure as a license for faculty laziness. And it happens.  But it is rare for a senior scholar or a master teacher to lose interest in what they worked so hard to achieve.

What is at risk in states where legislators and governors are looking for ways to create political mischief?  More faculty will be shunned by newly enfranchised and anti-intellectual board members, many of whom have their eyes on traditional liberal arts departments. History, English, Philosophy, and Music: are among the seven liberal arts that have made up the core university curriculum since antiquity.  But they are not safe if legislators want universities to abandon ideas and turn themselves into trade schools.

Institutions that used to be the pride of specific states will have to guard against direct interference. Their many stakeholders will also need to push back.  And young scholars must decide if they want to risk their years of academic training in states where non-expert politicians are happy to be at war with the canons and traditions of a liberal education.

black bar

Revised square logo

flag ukraine


red and black bar

Thank you very much, but The Governor of Florida would prefer to tell your story his way.

Active Listening in the Classroom Heather Syrett.

An age-appropriate accounting of the multiform American experience is an educator’s duty.

These days a possible run for the Presidency means becoming the voice of widespread grievances held by potential voters. It’s a bit too early to know, but Governor Ron DeSantis’ and Florida’s legislative leaders seem to have mapped a path that includes taking on the educational establishment.  There appears to be no end to the state’s interest in laying down curriculum rules distinctly at odds with best practices known to schools of education, teachers, librarians and curriculum specialists. An age-appropriate accounting of the multiform American experience is an educator’s duty. But the Governor seems to favor gag orders that omit inclusion of all of the state’s citizens. Among other goals, he wants newer but widely accepted representations of gender off the table in most school classrooms.  In addition, DeSantis has replaced a university president and most of its board with fellow social conservatives, demanded the removal of “inappropriate” library books, disallowed a high school AP African American Studies course, and is attempting to dismember various diversity initiatives. He clearly prefers narratives that pull us back to the less aware years of the last century, when homosexuality was mostly not acknowledged, or insights about social injustice were limited to a few heroic figures. And forget about introducing students to what we now understand are the many sources of systemic bias. He treats this aspect of organizational life as if it were mere speculation rather than settled social science fact.

Here’s the thing. Building a description of anything in everyday language is not a neutral act. The vast and largely accepted literature in the Sociology of Knowledge reminds us that narrative cannot help but come from perspectives shaped by the particular experiences and values of a given community. Narratives evolve with shifting preferences. The question is less if there is a perspective, but which ones are in play at any one time. These systemic preferences—some harmless and some pernicious—are built into the rhetoric of human communities.


To progress beyond these limitations requires awareness.  Going the other way to denial leads us to banning rhetoric if it is “woke,” meaning that they may consider newer narratives that acknowledge more fluid definitions of gender, racial discrimination, or the situational ethics of the founding fathers. All are unsettling to anyone who mistakenly understands learning as a static enterprise dealing with “knowns” that are oversimplified into immutability. And so it follows that if a student is made to feel uncomfortable through discussion of a specific topic like the many form of the American family, a teacher is presumably supposed to retreat to some safer topic. Ditto for any topics touching on gender identity in the early elementary grades.

How does all of this look like in the classroom? One teacher in Palm Beach County recently changed her plans for a discussion about the first American woman to fly in space to omit the fact that Sally Ride was a lesbian. The teacher feared for her job if that detail was included. The same frightening logic is evident in the recent decision of a Florida College to cancel a scheduled appearance of the U.K.’s renowned King’s Singers. Someone discovered that a member of the acapella group was gay.

This land of swamps may have even more than it knows.

To be sure, no one wants to expose children to more than they can comfortably understand. And Ron DeSantis has imposed more gag rules on teaching professionals than the courts may accept. But hate bills against a lot of groups are fouling the very idea of education in the Sunshine State.

We can hope we have less to fear than we think from doctrines that pretend not to see. As Communication Theorist Marshall McLuhan once noted, school is a place where children can ‘take a break’ from their education via the mass media. For better or worse, our social and public media are infused with contemporary attitudes that are easily absorbed. And there are alternate ways for children to find their way to understanding the nature of social relations, even if they start with unfairly branded books like Todd Parr’s The Family Book, or Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three.

black bar

cropped Perfect Response logo 1