The New College of Florida’s board of trustees has denied tenure to five faculty members in a 6–4 vote. Among them were organic chemistry professors Rebecca Black and Lin Jiang.
All five faculty were recommended for tenure on Feb. 24, after completing their tenure packages a year ahead of schedule. Their last hurdle was approval by the board.
But in a memo to the trustees sent out 12 days prior to the April 26 board of trustees meeting, New College’s interim president, Richard Corcoran, recommended that the board either defer or deny the professors’ tenure, citing “extraordinary circumstances,” a point he reiterated during the meeting. The circumstances include changes to the administration and “a renewed focus on ensuring the College is moving towards a more traditional liberal arts institution,” the memo said.
He also noted the recent turnover of a large number of trustees. The six who voted to deny tenure to the faculty were appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in January. Corcoran, a former Republican House speaker, took over as interim president on Feb. 27.
The tenure decision led to an uproar among audience members who had stayed for the vote, held near the end of the 3 h meeting. Several in the crowd chanted, “Shame on you!” after the final votes were called.
But tensions were high even before the tenure decisions. In March, Corcoran had held a private meeting with faculty members who were up for tenure, asking them to withdraw their applications prior to the April board meeting, according to a story in the Tampa Bay Times. The move sparked outcry, with many seeing it as an attack on tenure and the academic freedom it protects.
Several faculty, students, and parents spoke in support of the five professors during the meeting’s public comment period. “We, as members of the faculty of New College of Florida, urge the board to vote in favor for tenure of our exceptional colleagues during this meeting,” Sonia Labrador-Rodriguez, a professor of Spanish literature and language, said in a statement that was later repeated by several colleagues.
Black’s research focuses on synthesizing homogeneous transition-metal catalysts that can perform organic reactions at moderate temperatures and pressures. Jiang’s interdisciplinary work uses environmental chemistry and bioorganic chemistry to investigate the degradation of environmental contaminants in wastewater and their impacts on marine life. Neither responded to emailed requests for comment.
“Our exceptional candidates were each hired with the promise that they would be granted a fair evaluation according to the clear procedures detailed in our collective bargaining agreement,” Steven Shipman, a professor of chemistry and the faculty union president, said during the meeting’s public comment period. “Today I urge the board to follow the provisions of our legally binding contract.”
All five faculty have a second chance to be considered for tenure next year.