(NEW YORK)— PEN America today criticized an unusual move by the interim president of New College of Florida directing the Board of Trustees to deny or defer tenure to five faculty members. PEN America said decisions about tenure depend on principles of academic freedom removed from political influence and is worried— in light of recent comments by trustees that instilled fear on campus— this latest step would further erode the integrity of the college.

Richard Corcoran, the interim president, cited “a renewed focus on ensuring the College is moving towards a more traditional liberal arts institution.,” in making the request. This comes after the appointments of several new trustees and other positions at the college this year, in an effort by Governor Ron DeSantis to transform the small liberal arts college into a “Hillsdale of the South.”

Corcoran previously urged the five faculty members to drop their tenure applications prior to the April 26 board meeting. The faculty members represent multiple fields of study, and their tenure cases have received approval by all levels of the college’s academic administration, as well as from Corcoran’s predecessor. The Board of Trustees must approve all tenure appointments.

In response to this development, Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, issued the following comments:

“This highly unusual directive from President Corcoran undermines the integrity of academic freedom at New College. It is a cardinal principle of American higher education that the evaluation of teaching and research in the tenure process be directed by faculty and administrators via a process of shared governance, not dictated by a single leader in an attempt to change the fundamental nature of the institution he serves. Given the precarious state of free expression at New College, and given that the professors in question have apparently fulfilled the requirements for tenure and had their cases approved through all required academic channels, that appears to be very much what’s at work.”

“In recent months, comments by the new trustees and the summary firing of senior New College administrators have already instilled fear among students and faculty on campus. This latest move by Corcoran adds to this worrisome trend and demonstrates the importance of tenure in protecting academic freedom from political interference.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057