SwatTalk: "The Fight for Academic Freedom in Florida and Beyond"
with Miriam Wallace '84
Recorded on Monday, March 27, 2023
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Well, Miriam, you are a very popular speaker. I think there's a lot of interest in this topic. This is great.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, I'm not sure it's me. I think it's the topic, but I see some familiar names out there now.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Excellent. Well, we're at 8:02, so we'll go ahead and get started. Hi everybody, my name is Emily Anne Jacobstein. I am class of 2007 and a member of the Alumni Council. Thank you so much for joining us tonight for this SWAT talk. A few little housekeeping items before we dive into it. This session is being recorded and will be available on the college website in a couple of weeks. You are encouraged to use the chat tool to submit questions throughout the session. Our speaker tonight is going to give a presentation for the first half, and then we'll transition to Q and A. I will be moderating that, so please submit your questions. We do ask to that you add your class year. It's always nice to see the different age ranges when you submit your questions. And with that, I would like to introduce our speaker tonight, Miriam Wallace, class of 84. So Miriam is a professor of English and gender studies at New College of Florida, which is a small public liberal arts, all honors college in Sarasota. Her scholarly interests include early feminism's, psycho-analysis, political fiction, public speech, and most recently disability related approaches. With Dr. Mona Narain she is co-editor for Transits literature, thought and Culture with Bucknell University Press. And New College where she's a professor, has been in the news recently after Governor DeSantis appointment of six trustees to the board of 13 with an explicit mandate to remake this woke college into a Hillsdale of the south. So tonight's session will be very, very interesting as we hear about academic freedom. So Miriam with that, I will pass it over to you.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Okay, great. Well, thank you. Thank you very much Emily Anne, and thank you everybody for being here tonight. I need to open with a disclaimer, so I'm gonna start there. I am not speaking for New College of Florida. I am speaking as an alumni of Swarthmore College. As an experienced educator and a part-time administrator in higher education and as a citizen of the United States, extramural speech we understand is protected by the First Amendment. My focus tonight, though, will be on the concept of academic freedom as it pertains to higher education where I have some real expertise, but I'm happy to entertain and I hope that we will have a somewhat broader discussion at the end of it. I'm gonna talk, I think for about 30 minutes. We'll see how that plays out. It's a little hard to read a room when everybody's in a webinar. So what I'd like to do is start by talking a little bit about specifics of what I've seen happen at New College in my part of Florida. Try to paint a little bit of the larger national picture of how free speech and academic freedom are being mobilized or called into question and hold some time. I hope quite a bit for questions and discussion at the end, because I really am looking for insights, input, senses of what's happening in the broader national frame. So I am going to share my screen now. All right. Yeah, so this is my little emblem from my 18th century work on public speaking. So those of us who work in higher education tend to assume that academic, we tend to assume academic freedom as a baseline, the liberty to conduct research, to choose our methodologies to draw conclusions without interference. Individual instructors have the right, we assume to select course content, a pedagogical approach, and design their own assignments to achieve the outcomes that they're trying to reach. And this comes to some degree, this was sort of codified in 1915 and then again in 1940 by the AAUP, the American Association of University Professors. And you have a chunk of their statement there. And I just wanna point out that academic freedom is thus distinct from, but related to our rights as citizens to free speech under the First Amendment. And my point really is that this comes with responsibility. So if we take a look at the things I highlighted on the slide, you see full freedom and research and publication of the results. We won't get into the money stuff, freedom in the classroom and discussing their subject, but, and here's the responsibility, right? They should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject. So you can't just bring up something that you're interested in without it having a reason for being part of the conversation. And so when we speak or write as citizens, instructors, academics, faculty should be free from institutional censorship or discipline. But we need to remember our special position in the community imposes special obligations. So with with expertise and a platform, and frankly, power, comes some responsibilities. Okay, whoops, here we go. So the reason I wanna address academic freedom and free speech is that recent events all across the country, and I'm sure some of you have seen them, what I might call politicized attacks on diversity initiatives and on queer and trans people challenges to an AP African American history curriculum and draft that led to changes in that curriculum. And the complete you remaking of a small public liberal arts college in the name of free speech and civil discourse is the kind of thing that I think should interest all of us. So, right. So this slide, I think really just sets up the first amendment, which is often taken to try to prevent, to try to prevent institutions from regulating the speech, particularly of students actually. And then academic freedom addresses the rights within educational context for teaching and learning and research. And this is both, this is faculty and students and everybody else. Okay, so I'm gonna go to my next slide. So here's the timeline of what actually happened at New College, and I've got everything exactly right, but this is pretty close. So just a little bit of background. New College, unlike Swarthmore is a public institution. We are part of the state university system. We are the only standalone small liberal arts college in that system. Some years ago, under former governor Jeb Bush, the state moved to a system of performance metrics. And if you're interested in higher education, you'll see this in a number of places. Texas also uses it, a number of other states use it. And that's a system by which the 11 universities are judged on a kind of rubric or metrics. There are 10 metrics, and they have 10, it's a scale of 10. And they include things that are really, there are things you really would want to see, right? Like what's the percentage of students graduating in six years? What's the percentage of students majoring in what we call here, areas of strategic emphasis, which means prominently means STEM, but also languages, international studies. The percentage of graduates making $35,000 or more within one year of graduation. The board of governors of the state. So the state higher ed system basically determines what these metrics are going to be. If you score high, you may get a funding bonus. So you may get a lot of money. If you score at the bottom, you may get no extra money, or in some cases you can actually have your baseline budget cut. So it's kind of a, it's a model borrowed from corporate America that is sort of aiming to create pressure on institutions to meet goals that are being set. It's been a problem for us because we're very, very small. And so in some cases, five students, one way or the other, can actually put us into the money one year or out of the money that year. So it's, so that has left us, I think, somewhat vulnerable to what's just happened. So to get back to the timeline, on January 6th of this year, the governor of the state appointed six new trustees. He has the legal authority to appoint six of our 13 trustees. They're usually staggered. In this case, three trustees were asked to step down so that a full six could be appointed at the same time. On Wednesday the 25th, two of our new trustees, Christopher Rufo and Eddie Speir, Christopher Rufo is from the Manhattan Institute. Eddie Speir runs a Christian academy up the road from us who had just been appointed new trustees, invited the faculty and the staff to a meeting. And I just wanna flag that this was very unusual. Trustees tend to show up because we have very strict sunshine laws. Trustees are not supposed to talk to each other outside of a meeting. In fact, they're supposed to be very careful even about having lunch together. More than two of them, I think can't meet at all unless it's in a publicly noticed meeting. So when they invited us, we didn't know what this vet had, it never happened before. Some of us have attended trustees meetings, some of us have been invited to present at trustees meetings. But generally the trustees come together and they kind of go through a docket of things that they need to do. They're sort of final approval on almost everything that happens at the very high level in the college. So we were invited to this meeting at which they sort of filled us in on some of the things, and we'd already seen a lot of information out on social media, but this was the first time that actually as a group we had had any conversation about, the desire to remake new college from a liberal arts college that was sort of known for being progressive, that was known for being very queer friendly, that was known for being, for having students who have funny hair colors and seem pretty lefty into a college modeled on Hillsdale College in Michigan, which is a private Christian college of a very particular liberal arts core. And this had all been announced on social media, but we actually started to hear about it here. On the 26th, the board of governor's appointed a new trustee, which was also their right. They decided not to renew somebody who'd asked to be renewed and to appoint a new person who came with a similar profile to the other six. On the 31st, the very first board of trustees meeting was held and their, it took a while, but they made several moves. One was to abolish our, the equivalent of our diversity, equity, and inclusion access, and the second list to fire the president. This is all public record. None of this is particularly secret or hidden. You can find plenty of information about it out there on the media. About an hour before that meeting, there was actually information floating around on social media that they were going to, that Richard Corcoran, who is the former, he's a former board of governor's member and also he was the head of Florida Department of Education that he would be appointed as our president. This was before they'd fired the president. So that happened at that meeting. Corcoran was appointed interim president. There have been several, then there was a flurry of trustees meetings. They usually don't happen that often, but they had a lot of business to get through. Our new president arrived technically on March 1st. He actually was here on February 27th. And on the 3rd of March, the dean of our office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence was fired. And we found out about it. There's still been no campus announcement. Actually, we found out about it through the media, like everybody else that was announced in the Washington Post was the first interview with them. 7th of March, our new VP of enrollment management was announced, who's also somebody outta the Florida Department of Education. So this is sort of a timeline of the things that have happened. So at the beginning they said, we're gonna remake this school, and you can sort of see the moves to do precisely that. So essentially, all of our higher administration has been replaced. The diversity office was closed. Three of the four faculty removed other positions. And that was tricky because that's the office that handles Veteran Affairs. That's the office that was handling a Mellon grant, that office did a lot of things on the campus that this is why it took the trustees two meetings. They hadn't quite realized the scope of what they were proposing to close down. But we're seeing this move is happening now in many states at public institutions. So that's one of the reasons I sort of wanted to give you the big picture here. Oops, I wanna go forward. Alright, so the AAUP lists threats to academic freedom as these four, program redesign without shared governance. That has not happened yet. But when you make changes to things like core curriculum, general education, et cetera, the AAUP says the best practices that faculty should be involved. It's usually thought at higher ed institutions that the faculty really owns the academic program. The president provides vision. A provost tells you how to move and where to go. And may the faculty to think about developing new programs or may may make a decision to close down a program. But the faculty usually own it. We've been told that there are plans to establish a classical liberal arts curriculum and they intend to bring in some new faculty potentially to teach this. We're still waiting to find out what's gonna happen there or if we'll just be told what we're gonna be teaching now. Ad hominem, condemnations or disciplinary action, I think there's a legal case out there. I think it's been talked about in the Washington Post article on the part of our former dean of the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence suggesting that that firing was based on who they are. So that may fit this, that's the only one I know of so far. Funder influence, I think there are questions about, they've just replaced the director of our foundation, which is our fundraising arm. The previous director retired. I've heard through the grapevine that some other people have been fired that we haven't heard anything officially. Guns on campus, I'll just say there are a lot of bills out there. Florida's not the only state that are moving to make it easier to have guns on campus concealed carry with or without a permit. So these are the four things the AAUP has flagged historically. And I just wanna say that we may in fact be seeing all of these. And the reason I'm bringing up is not just that we need to be concerned about New College, but that I think what we're seeing here is, it's been very explicitly stated on social media that this is a model of what some of the people who've devised this would like to take to other states and take forward to other institutions. And you can just look at, if you're interested, Florida House Bill 999 has gotten a lot of press and it would make it illegal to teach critical race theory, gender ideology, which essentially it makes an impossible for students to major in fields that rely on concepts like intersectionality, critical race theory, gender theory, et cetera. Ohio, just affordability the other day. So just keep your eyes out on those. Closing down DEI offices making diversity statements illegal is happening in a number of places just up the road. State College of Florida just fired somebody who'd worked there for, I think I I wanna say 40 years, might be 20 years, who was, who had been pulled out of the faculty to lead their DEI office. So this is something that is in the works and it is expanding. Lemme just scroll myself down a little bit, right? So where is this coming from? So this is part of partly why I want people to be thinking about this. It's very clear that what happened at New College looked quite spontaneous and by quick was really planned out behind the scenes. And I will say that it was also pretty clear from the very strong social media presence that one of the major goals was to get as much media attention and to create, to emphasize a culture wars narrative, right? So there were stories about, oh, the professors are terribly liberal. Then it was like, well, it's not that professors, it's really the students are holding the professors hostage. So there are various ways of going at it, but it's, this is set up to be a culture war. And I think we need to be very careful about that because I, for one, don't want to be in a culture war battle. I don't think that's what's actually going on. But I do think that's a very tempting story for media to want to tell. And so that's part of why I've wanted to make an effort to talk about the good things that we do, what kind of an institution we are, what my former students have gone on to do, and to sort of, just tell the other narrative. So I'll just put that out there. The other thing we saw was that, I mean, the minute this was announced, unless institutional leadership wants to get fired, they really can't say much of anything. And all of our state Florida has, like I said, very open sunshine laws. All of our emails are open to freedom of information requests. And in fact, our personal emails and personal phones may be, if we are in the kind of position where we might be discussing policy on them, this is true for the board of trustees as well. So it's not just, it's not just faculty, but it would, what it kind of boils down to is the president needed to be very careful what she said because the governor has the absolutely legal right to appoint the trustees and they do have the final say in a lot of things on our campus. So if she didn't want to be embattled and fireable for cause she needed to find a way to be potentially open to working with new people. It was also clear that from some of the social media posts, again, that they knew the mechanisms by which you can fire tenured faculty. And there are ways to do it. Financial exigency is the most extreme. Closing departments is pretty common. Firing people for cause, things like failing to show up to teach your classes, doing, being a, not doing your job, not doing your job well. Those are in fact ground for firing tenured faculty. They also had access to institutional documents, which is totally their right as trustees. So things like SWAT analyses, so strikes, weaknesses, opportunities, and I forget what the other one is, but basically these are sort of standard things that you do, external studies, and they were able to lift some sound bites out of those to make a case that we were a place that lacked civil discourse, that was silencing conservative points of view. And that had a culture problem, which was the rationale for why we needed to be, we needed a major change agent to come in and remake things. But I've learned from talking to other people that there is a somewhat larger scenario. So, and I'll mention this book by Isaac, Kamola and Wilson, "Free Speech and Coke Money Manufacturing and Culture War." I will say it is a little sensationalist, but it has some real research in it. And this is something that they lifted from a 1996 paper in a journal philanthropy that was essentially laying out a sort of a plan for how to get more conservative voices into higher education. So this is something that certain kinds of conservatives have been worried about for a long time. That higher education is in some way unfriendly or in some way imbalanced. There's a really interesting discussion to have about why that might be the case and what it really looks like and where that's true and where that's not true. But the plan here that I think is really interesting is that you start with, that there's a desire for academic credibility. So the pyramid starts at the top and then you go to think tanks. And we can all think of the think tanks. I mean, several of our trustees come from the Manhattan Institute, the Claremont Institute, I think immediately of the Hoover Institute, right? These institutes are all over the place and they produce, they produce talking points, they produce findings, they produce data, they produce speakers, and then you get out into mainstream media, social media, transforming these ideas into sound bites and points that are accessible to and can get picked up by a general public. So there's a real communications element here, and then you get into the law. So I just, I think this is really interesting. When I saw it, I suddenly thought, ah, this makes a certain amount of sense. And around here the narratives are DEI is discrimination, right? Gender ideology is confusing our children, they need to be taught that there are two genders and two sexes, and they go together. Trendy ideologies and zombie studies are ruining classical liberal arts that the zombie studies line has actually been out there. So that's the kind of larger picture I wanted to point out. So what I'm kind of coming to is why should we defend academic freedom? And what I've sort of hoped you'll go away with is a sense that we, in fact, we should because I think we should. So the AAUP subcommittee report stated that it's imperative that we make a case for academic freedom at both public and private institutions. Being private alone will not save you. We're all in the same boat to some degree, not as a matter of law, this is not about laws. This is about both a principle vital to the effective functioning of institutions of higher education, higher learning. So, academic freedom, these are sort of my id, my points, right? It supports the open setting exploration for students with faculty and instructors as responsible guides and scholarly models. It supports research and scholarship to follow where it leads without fear. The idea, this is how we get to discoveries and insights and new work, is that people are able to follow things through and see where they go, even if it's not popular or even if it feels uncomfortable, it does not absolve teachers or instructors from responsibility to the institution, which is why my disclaimer was there at the beginning, or responsibly to students. You can't abuse students, you can't mistreat students, right? Academic freedom does not let you do those things in the classroom or responsibly to the profession or in your public conduct. And I mentioned this before, but yes, tenured faculty can be fired or terminated, but there are very clear processes for doing this, and there's a reason for that as well. So just, and I pulled these other factoids from Pan America, if you don't know them, they're a really useful free speech organization. I have a lot of respect for them. Between June of 2021 and 2022, Penn has tracked more than 2,500 book ban incidents involving more than 1600 book titles and 1500 authors and illustrators. And I'm willing to bet it's much higher now because I've heard from librarians, high new school librarians about how many cases of contested books they're getting. And in some cases, it's a single person who may not even have children in the school who is filing hundreds and hundreds of cases. Every single one has to be investigated. And in many schools, you have a single media specialist who has to do that investigation, or you have a committee that it has to go to, and it's just easier to pull the books. In 2022, there were 137 gag order bills. This is Penn America's term for these bills that are trying to silence certain kinds of academic speech introduced in 36 states. So this was just bills that were introduced that's up from 54 in 22 states in 2021. And of those in 2022, 19 were actually enacted. The so-called Stop Woke Act bill in Florida is currently hung up in court. It's been, the court has called it unconstitutional twice. But even though it is not actually law, it is already having effect. We have good reports of people already changing what they teach, changing titles, cutting readings out in response to these. So in some ways, getting them through the law is less, is less the goal than creating the kind of chilling effect that we're actually seeing. And this is something I just think all US citizens should be concerned about. So for those of you out there who might be faculty like me or instructors or teachers in higher ed, a few quick points, and I'm collecting more of these, so I'm happy to have more know your faculty handbook, your collective bargaining agreement if you have one, know what your two local two-party recording laws are about two years ago, Florida passed a law that makes it legal. We are a two-party consent state, which means that I can't record you, you can't record me without permission, except in the classroom. If you're my student, you may record me in the classroom without my knowledge, presumably so that you can, so that you have evidence if you think that I've said something, I shouldn't say. Freedom of information laws know how those work and what can be requested and how. Be prepared with your talking points. What are the things you wanna say that are going to reach a persuadable general audience about why academic academic freedom is a public good, is a shared good, right? It's not just something special that professors get to do. And think about who are your spokespersons who will be able to make those points if things get really tight. Are you talking about faculty emeritus or emerita? Are you talking about those who are going to be retiring in the same year? These are things that if we had been prepared, we might have been better able to respond when things started happening. Be careful about falling into liberal arts versus careers trap. I just mentioned this because there's a little bit of, there's been a lot of, this is a very long story. I'll try to make it short. There's a little bit of, there's a lot of pressure in academia these days to show the traditional liberal arts fields like English literature, like classics, like philosophy, actually lead to viable careers, right? This has been floating around for a while and one of the ways of doing it is to really emphasize career skills, career training. Sometimes faculty get nervous about that language because it seems to suggest that it's only about an end goal of getting a job and making money that there's not a benefit to reading widely and studying widely. So I think we are sensitive to that and I also kind of fall into that camp to some degree, but what I will say is that one of the things I've seen is this concept of classical liberal arts, which means a very specific set of things. If you look at Hillsdale's curriculum is, sets itself in opposition to the careers move. So that particular sensitivity on our part can actually be used to press for versions of liberal arts that we might not be so happy with. One of the talking points from Penn that I think is very handy, college students are adults. They need exposure to a wide range of debate and issues to become active, engaged, and educated citizens. I feel protective of my students. I have a tendency to want to talk about them as young people I try to avoid calling them kids. But we do, I think it's really important, particularly in this atmosphere, to remind people we are talking about adults who can make decisions for themselves about what they want to read and what they don't want to read, what they want to watch and what they don't want to watch. And that if we want them to become the citizens they should be, they need to be able to make those decisions. Action items, use your public media share why academic freedom matters to you and yours, become involved where it matters if you can do it. Serve on school boards, serve in city government, participate in events that cross between the campus and the community. You know that, what I've heard is that this, it's work. It's not hard work, but it does take time. But it means that you have a voice at the table in the places that matter. Speak out about the economic as well as the intellectual arts and arts values of your institutions of higher education. We have to learn how to talk about what we bring to communities. Often institutions of higher education are one of the major economic employers, one of the major, what's the word I want? Engines, economic engines in their communities. And we're often a little shy about that and we probably shouldn't be. Build your community support. Internships can do this, exchanges can do this. Book clubs, public talks. Ali, if you know anything about the OSHA institutes for lifelong learning, they're great groups and they really tie people in. And finally, if you care about it, protect real diversity and inclusion. And I think what that means is we have to weave these ways of thinking in these ways of being attentive to who's at the table and who needs to be at the table throughout. Not just, it's not good enough to just have an office where you put all that work that can become isolated. In fact, people who work in DEI often complain about feeling sidelined and isolated. For all of us as citizens, talking points, college students are adults, right? That whole thing, again, they need exposure to a wide range of debate and issues to become active, engaged, educated citizens. Another thing, and I'm getting this from Pan America, again, there have been quite good studies, most Americans, and this includes people who vote Republican, people who think of themselves as socially and politically conservative. Most Americans think all perspectives should be included and they are opposed to banning books. So when it's talked about as book banning or gag orders, they're opposed to it. When it's talked about as protecting children from inappropriate ideas, you get a much more mixed response. Action items, again, public media. Use your social media or public media to share why academic freedom matters to you and yours. I think anybody who can get an op-ed there, right out there right now, especially in the papers that are read by a broader, not already the converted would be great. Become involved where it matters against school boards, city government. Invite someone to your book group, theater talk backs. I do those. Speak out about the economics. Well, as the intellectual values of the institution of higher education in your community. Offer internships or experiential opportunities. Swarthmore's extern program is a fantastic example of what that can look like. And those things really make a difference. They help students, but they also help to build to bind together educational institutions and their larger communities and right, more than ever, I think we need good op ed articles. We need them in places the general public sees. We need good social media and we need people who can write and speak up as citizens, not just those of us who are teachers or college faculty. It means a lot coming from the general citizenry. And that's it, I can stop sharing now, but thank you so much for letting me talk to you about all this.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Wonderful, thank you so much. That was incredibly informative and we have a lot of questions coming in. Please keep on sending them. And so I'll start with some questions that came up earlier on when you were going through the situation right now at New College. First, Elizabeth Sawyer had a question about the AAUP guidelines because have they truly not been updated in 83 years?
Miriam Wallace ’84 That's a great question. I'm not sure I know the answer to that, but everything I see goes back and cites that 1940 statement. So I think some things have been mod, I think there have been some updates if you look at it from the '70s and so forth. But that's still the baseline document from what I can tell, and I'm not an expert on this, but I'm learning.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Ethan Landis wrote in, did any board members refuse to resign or be fired?
Miriam Wallace ’84 It has been reported that two of them have called themselves fired, that they were basically forced to step down and didn't want to. One of them, I mean, I think this is, I'm trying to think if this is all out in public. I think it really is, at least one of them is an alum and has been pretty vocal about having been pushed into stepping down.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 What actions on campus or testing rank failures were cited to justify the transformation?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Not really.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 So it was not really communicated.
Miriam Wallace ’84 There really wasn't any. No it was, I look, here's the thing. I think the talking point, and this is where the Kamola book comes in, right? The talking point is campuses are shutting down conservative speech. They don't have enough conservatives on their faculty. Look at all the cases where somebody's been brought in to say to speak, and then students have erupted in protests, right? These always make media noise and then they point to them and they say, and you were like this. So, here's the one that we're going to remake. So that's why I think falling into the culture worst thing is really tricky. And if you do have a controversial speaker, student groups have been funded by external groups to bring in controversial speakers. There is a speaker network. We've seen that this has been going on for like the last 20 years, right? We're just so small, it's never happened on our campus. So we don't have an example of n-Culture wanting to come speak and being heckled or denied. It's never happened at New College, but it has happened elsewhere. And that's used as sort of a larger rationale for why this needs to happen. And we happen to be the model that they can use because we're small and vulnerable.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 I see some people raising their hands. If you can type your question in on the Q and A, I think that's the easiest way to get your questions in. Wilbur Greenhouse Jr asked, "What are the academic consequences for students learning and for professional future because of these changes?"
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, a lot of that's unclear right now. We are accredited by SACSCOC, which is the Southern Accreditation Group. They do most of the southeast, there are a number of other accrediting groups, and this is too much detail, but we'll probably be changing accrediting group. In fact, everybody in Florida probably will, that's another law that they passed that we can't use the same accrediting group twice in a row and there's reasons for that that I don't wanna really get into, but right. So under accreditation, when you close a program, you have to have a plan to what they call teach it out. So students who have already declared that major should be guaranteed to complete their degree with that major. We are assuming that that is in fact the way it will go. That's the normal process. But a lot of these, a lot of what's happened has been so abnormal that we're a little unclear on that. I did hear that President Corcoran did say that that was the plan, but we certainly haven't heard that from the trustees.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 We have a few questions here on book bans that I'll combine Ethan with another question. And Neil Ottenstein, can teachers recommend books or students if they've been removed from the school library? And if you can talk a bit about book bans extend up through the college level, right? And the justification proposed.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, so far the book bans are pretty much K through 12, but they, although I will say that the ban on teaching critical race theory actually named certain writers. Some of the writers who were named were people like, and I was surprised that they, somebody had clearly done their research. So Angela Davis, Adre Lord, Bell Hooks, who was actually used to be, who actually was visiting on this campus for a number of years. So like, I know her, I knew her, a number of students knew her. So that's not exactly a book ban, but it's, if you can't teach these concepts, and these are the writers, Kimberly Crenshaw, right? These are the writers that are associated with it. The way I read that is you can't put those people on your syllabus and that is higher ed. I don't know about recommending books that are banned. Libraries often do like a banned book week where they put books out, sometimes put 'em brown rappers. I think a lot of them are changing their programming. This is, it is just a little too dangerous right now. They're finding ways to do other things.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Neil has another question. Do you know what the college president did after being replaced?
Miriam Wallace ’84 So, because President Ochree was fired without cause, she retains her position as tenured faculty. It's pretty standard when you bring in somebody at the level of provost, president, dean, that you bring them as tenured so they can rotate back into the faculty when their term is done unless there's a reason not to. If she'd been fired without cause, she would have lost some of her benefits and she would not have rotated back into the faculty. So she's effectively English faculty now and she's on a year's sabbatical, which is also pretty standard. So there was some kind of a deal worked out. I don't know the ramifications of it. There was a little bit of mention of it at the board of trustees meeting. And that's about all I know. I know pretty much what everybody else in the public knows.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Cynthia Gray, class of 62. Thank you for including your class year. Will it be possible to get copies of the slides that were shown? I do know this is being recorded, so you can go back, it'll probably be a couple days, maybe a week or so. So you can always rewatch this. The slides will be available there. Jim Colvin, class of 71. Does it help to deluge interim president with emails of protest? And I think it would be one question for the general public. Another if maybe you are a resident of Florida.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I appreciate the thought, I really do. I think the time to do that when this was all breaking, I'm not sure it does much good. Now the thing that's interesting at this point is, trustees kind of, they kind of come in, they do their thing, they go, they're not long-term residents on the campus. The president though is here and has an investment in seeing the institution thrive, right? That's gonna prove that's how they prove the value of this project. So, I'm just not sure what's useful at this point. Yeah, I don't have a really good answer for that, but I think keeping your eye on the larger picture, like what is, I think letters about laws, letters to legislators, even if you're not in state, I think that probably does help a lot because these things are passing, easy and fast and once they get through, then they become a model. So like Texas has already copied some of ours. Ohio has copied some of ours. If you believe in academic freedom, I think a lot of these just really need to not pass. And that's where I'm speaking like a political citizen, right? That's clearly not my purview, is it, Professor of English?
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Peter Bob, class of 84, I think we've talked about this with removing books.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, hi, Peter.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Oh yeah, another 84. Kat Clark has a great question. Could you share the name again of who created that structure for social change pyramid in your slide?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yes, so that slide comes from a page in a book by Isaac Kamola, K-A-M-O-L-A and his co-author's last name is Wilson, called "Free Speech And Coke Money." You can easily pick it up, it's not theirs. It comes from a conservative writer from 1996. And it was apparently leaked by somebody who leaked it basically to people who weren't on board with the project.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Great, next question. How did a group of six appointees from the state of Florida take control of a board of 13, assuming the remaining seven didn't vote as a block?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, that's an excellent question. So it's six the governor appoints, the board of governors gets to appoint five, one is a faculty member and one is a student member. So the, so there was one who carried over from the board of governors who had been chair and stepped down when all this stuff happened. But the, let's just say they have a very clear majority. So board of governors replaced someone who has to be a reappointed with someone who has a background from the Heritage Foundation. So that gives them seven. And then the other, some of the other trustees who've come out of industry have kind of gone along with what the seven are pushing.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Just doing some reading beforehand. It seemed like in a number of the votes, there were three people that were holding out. And so pretty strong majority.
Miriam Wallace ’84 And it's complicated, right? If you're gonna sit on that board and you have any hope of working together, when do you push back? When do you go along with something? When things are kind of a federal company, is it, what kind of resistance is worthwhile? What kind of authority are you going to have? I mean that's, I'm sure everybody's sitting there and I haven't talked to anybody, this is just my guess looking at it from the outside. But I assume everybody is sitting there trying to figure out what's the best thing that they can do under the circumstances, but.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 What has the impact been on your admissions, first?
Miriam Wallace ’84 We are waiting to find out about that. There is a lot of unverified information floating around, but we have heard that there are students and parents who have withdrawn their applications. I know for a fact that a couple of my advisees are transferring to other schools. They are expecting the incoming class next fall to be much smaller than it should be. But we shall see, they're prepared for a small incoming class. They understand this happened late in this, I will say this happened right at the point where students have made their decisions. So we will see what happens. They do point to Hillsdale, which apparently had a very large incoming class and say that they're pretty sure they can get the class up in another couple of years. But I think that the proof will probably be in the pudding with that one because colleges, if there are no students coming in, you don't have a college anymore.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 And Fran, class of 76 had asked a similar question about if students were looking to transfer.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yes, Hampshire College has actually offered to take students at New College tuition levels, and it's hard to know how to feel about that, right? Because if all the students transfer to Hampshire, that may be very good for them that of course, depletes New College even faster. So, and what you all may or may not know is in higher ed, there's a lot of anxiety about the traditional college age, college prepared population is shrinking. And we know that, it's growing in some states, Florida has been one of them. There are lots of colleges that would love to come to Florida and pick up our students. So, we'll see.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Robert McLaughlin, is there a movement to organize colleges into a national force to resist the threat of conservative war on free thought and open education at American universities, there are strength in numbers, noise is needed?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yep, that's kind of why I've been talking very quietly to professional groups and now to this group where I feel like I can probably put this information out there, but it's tricky for us to talk too freely on open public media.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Would Penn America be a good resource for that?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yep, Penn America has been great. If you've seen media, there probably are people behind it.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Wonderful. Oh, this is an interesting one from Elizabeth Strom who is at USF. Just wanted to note that legislation has also created a post-tenure review and this year's passing legislation that will undermine faculty unions. These will make it that much more difficult to resist.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yes, hi Elizabeth. Yeah, and this is not just Florida. There are other states, I wanna say West Virginia, maybe it was just one university, but they're trying to do this reducing the kinds of protection that tenure give, doing an annual review and making it possible for the president and the trustees essentially to decide whether a faculty member is no longer meeting their obligations. We have a very complex process. There are a lot of layers to reviews. We get reviewed every seven years as it is. We used to get reviewed every five. They wanna make it annual and they don't want the faculty involved in it, which is going to really change things dramatically. They also don't want the faculty involved in hiring. They wanna do their moves of foot to hire, to make it possible to hire university faculty just with the presidents and the boards of trustees, which is never, that's just unheard of.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Now we have an update on the AAUP, it seems like.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Oh yes.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 From Jeffrey Ryas. So July, 2014, University of Chicago published a statement on academic freedom meant to update the statement from AAUP encourage all to have a look. It's referred to as the Chicago statement. Thank you, Jeff.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, and the state system in Florida, the sport, our board of governors signed onto the Chicago statement a few years back. It's actually been cited at us as one of the reasons they need to make us new, so.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Cynthia Gray, class of 62, am I correct that with a conservative Republican presidency, Title Six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would present similar threats to any institution of higher ed receiving federal money, including federal loans to students? If I am correct, are people planning an attack?
Miriam Wallace ’84 I don't know the ins and outs of that act. I'm not a lawyer, but I will say that because Hill, for instance, Hillsdale College is not only private, it doesn't accept any federal money, which means, for instance, it doesn't have to abide by Title IX law. So I think there's something there to think through.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Andrea Raganavitz class of 1949 asked, "Have you asked for help from the ACLU?"
Miriam Wallace ’84 I think they're different groups that are in touch with different people and I'm not sure who's in touch with whom. And it's, again, is it about, is it about our little college or is it about the larger moves in the state? The larger moves nationally.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 So Warren Morris class of 04, this, I think there's something a little twist on the question here we've been talking about students not accepting or students transferring. What about the faculty or faculty leaving?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yeah, it's again, not a lot of open information. Some people are, some students have dug their heels in and said they can't really change the culture if we're still here. Some faculty are trying to hang on and see what they can do. There's a strong commitment to the students, right? We it's like Swarthmore, it's a place where students and faculty really care about each other. We're investing in each other and it's hard, but I know some people are looking to leave. It's actually very difficult for academics at a certain stage in their career to move. There aren't a lot of jobs out there. Colleges and universities tend to wanna hire people straight outta graduate school, not somebody who's very, very senior. You know, we know that there are lots of PhDs out there looking for jobs. So I don't think higher ed has thought through what this kind of thing might mean in terms of people needing to move or being able to move. So it's a complicated question.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 As a follow up to that, Caitlin Killian class of 95 is curious, would you advise faculty and staff to not take jobs at university in states like Florida and we've talked about the students and particularly I'd say a public universities and colleges?
Miriam Wallace ’84 That's, yeah, that's a really hard one because I don't wanna see my colleagues at other institutions. I don't wanna see good institutions go down the tubes. So I don't wanna say exactly what you should do, but I would look very hard at it. What is the school offering? Is it private or is it public? And we did, there was a report today, I think it showed up in the Washington Post, and it also showed up in a thing called University Business that's a higher ed magazine. And there was a study done of, and that showed that students heading off to college are looking very hard and determining not to go to some states. And one of the big pushes is there are quite a few, we've heard about this for a while, that some students don't wanna go to a state where that has a very, very early abortion law, but they can't, they aren't sure that they can get the healthcare, the reproductive healthcare that they think they might need. So I think this is having an impact already. And if I were looking at my child, I would think very hard about where I would be willing to let them go to college right now.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Let's see, oh, I, we're tight on time. We've got five minutes.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yes.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 I'm scanning through these. Let's see. Linda Havas Mantel class of 60 visited New College as an evaluator of the bio department back in the '90s.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Yes.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 And was really impressed by what the students did. How is this upheaval affecting science and research? Great question.
Miriam Wallace ’84 That is a great question. I think people here are pretty amazing. They are teaching their classes, they are running their labs, they are still doing it. The students are still doing work, they're still presenting at conferences. I'm gonna take three to London this summer to present their work at a conference. I mean, I don't know how people do it, but they just keep on keeping on and that's really what's keeping things going. But I am particularly concerned that folks in the sciences are more movable and that we may see particularly people who are not tenured. We may see those colleagues move to other places and that's gonna put more pressure on the people who stay, right? So that's gonna be a real challenge.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 This is an interesting perspective, Leanne Pavasco class of 04, I'm a community college department chair in Oklahoma. We have such high rates of concurrent enrollment with high school students taking college classes that the K to 12 library bans are impacting us directly. Our library and all public libraries in the state have had to get vendors to certify that they aren't sharing obscene material with us because we serve high school students. Someone just added a question and it dropped. A campus librarian has shared with us that means vendors like EBSCO are now censoring what academic journal articles our students can access. And in her opinion, they're taking a fairly broad arbitrary approach.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Wow. See what this tells me is we need to be in broader conversation. We need to be in conversation where we can with K through 12 teachers, we need to be in conversation with librarians. Because I think the isolation is what leaves us all vulnerable.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 There's question, can you expand on how this can affect private colleges as well? I think with that title six question, we got a little into that. I know that's not your area of expertise, but any thoughts on that?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Right. I'm sorry, say that again.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Can you expand upon how this will affect private colleges?
Miriam Wallace ’84 Right, so I'm not entirely clear, but I did have a conversation with the president of a private college and I said something about, well it's so much, about publics being especially vulnerable. And she said, actually privates can be very vulnerable. One thing is many privates are not unionized. So that may be part of the issue. It's unclear to me how these Florida laws might impact privates, might not. It's one of my questions, right? Because one option might be, can our students move to one of the private colleges? So I think we're still trying to figure that out, but the publics are certainly more vulnerable to government intrusion because they are government entities. I just wanna say that I think, I think public education is one of the most amazing things that the United States built in from the beginning. Public libraries are the other, that was unheard of at the time. The idea that you can't have an educated citizenry if you don't have access to education. And as grateful as I am to Swarthmore, I think losing public institutions would be a great loss for the college, right? For the college, for the country. So I just wanna put that out there.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 We just have one minute left. So Miriam, I'm gonna give you that minute for any final thoughts you have. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all the questions. Thank you so much to everyone who attended. But Miriam, the floor is yours.
Miriam Wallace ’84 Right, well, these were great questions. I so appreciate the audience. I so appreciate a sense of support out there. I think, all of us have work to do and I wanted to do this because I wanted to alert us to some of the work that we might not have realized is sitting in our laps right now. So thank you all.
Emily Anne Jacobstein ’07 Well, thank you so much for a wonderful presentation and conversation. Thank you everybody who joined, who asked questions. And if you have friends or family who are interested in this and couldn't join, this will be post college website shortly. Thanks everyone, have a great night.