12 December · Episode 185
AAUP Report on Political Interference in Higher Education
49 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton
McNaughton and Reichman cover the processes and conclusions of the AAUP report, emphasizing the detrimental effects on academic governance, academic freedom, and the well-being of faculty and students.
Unpacking the AAUP Report: A Critical Look at Political Interference in Florida’s Higher Education
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently released its comprehensive report titled “Political Interference and Academic Freedom in Florida’s Public Higher Education System.” This report marks a critical juncture in the AAUP’s history, being one of only eight special reports issued, and underscores a growing concern over political interference in the realm of academic governance.
Hank Reichman, co-author and co-chair of AAUP joins the Changing Higher Ed podcast to discuss the report and provides details about Governor DeSantis’s legislative efforts to control what can be taught, how it’s taught, and who teaches, particularly attacking faculty rights and tenure.
The report includes the specific case of the hostile takeover of New College, describing it as a blueprint for potential future encroachments on public colleges and universities across the United States.
McNaughton and Reichman cover the processes and conclusions of the AAUP report, emphasizing the detrimental effects on academic governance, academic freedom, and the well-being of faculty and students.
The Case of New College: A Blueprint for Political Overreach
One of the report’s most startling revelations is the takeover of New College. This incident is viewed not just as an isolated event but as a potential template for future actions in other institutions. It illustrates the extent to which political forces can assert control over academic institutions, fundamentally altering their governance and operational ethos.
Under Governor DeSantis’s administration, Florida has witnessed legislative maneuvers aimed at reshaping the educational landscape. These legislative actions have been perceived as direct attacks on academic freedom, faculty rights, and the sanctity of tenure. The report highlights instances where educational content, teaching methodologies, and faculty appointments have been influenced by a clear political agenda.
The AAUP report pays special attention to the takeover of New College in Florida as a model for potential future actions in other institutions. The takeover was facilitated by Governor DeSantis appointing six new trustees, five of whom were non-Floridians and none of them educators, marking a clear shift towards a politically driven agenda.
This board initiated significant changes, including the firing of the old president and hiring a new one with strong ties to Governor DeSantis, who earned more than double the salary of his predecessor.
Investigative Insights: A Deep Dive into the Crisis
In preparing this report, over 65 interviews were conducted with various stakeholders, including faculty, students, alumni, and former university presidents. However, the process faced challenges, notably the reluctance of current administrators and political leaders to engage, signifying the deep-seated nature of this issue.
The Human Cost: Emotional and Professional Toll of Political Interference
The report and subsequent discussions shed light on the significant emotional and professional impact these developments have had on faculty and students. Notable among these are faculty departures and a discernible decline in academic standards. These changes speak to the human cost of political interference, affecting the very heart of educational institutions.
Over 40% of the faculty at New College left, and this isn’t limited to certain disciplines but spans across biology, mathematics, and physics. A survey conducted among 642 Florida faculty members revealed that nearly 46% planned to seek employment outside the state in the next year, with an overwhelming majority rating the political atmosphere around higher education as poor or very poor.
The Impact on Tenure and Faculty Rights
The new board’s actions extended to tenure decisions, rejecting all seven candidates up for tenure in a blanket vote without individual consideration. This move, unprecedented in its blatant disregard for established academic norms and procedures, underscores the extent of the board’s overreach.
Alarming Trends in Higher Education Governance
The podcast highlights a worrying trend in higher education governance, where political appointments and decisions start to overshadow academic priorities. It points to a damaging effect on academic freedom, with faculty and students feeling the pressure of this political intrusion.
Beyond Florida: The Nationwide Implications
What emerges from the report is a clear warning: the events in Florida are not just state-specific concerns but harbingers of a possible national trend. Should public boards across the country succumb to partisan politics, the fallout could be a nationwide erosion of academic freedom, with profound implications for the quality and integrity of higher education.
Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards
- Thoroughly Review the Report: University presidents, administrators, provosts, deans, and other leaders actively engage with the contents of the report. Don’t just skim through it; understand its implications for your institution and its broader impact on academic freedom.
- Build Resilience and Courage: Leaders in higher education are strongly urged to cultivate the strength to face political pressures. This involves developing a steadfast approach to defending the rights and freedoms of your institutions, faculty, and students against politically motivated pressures.
- Stand Up for Academic Integrity: When confronted with situations that threaten academic freedom or the integrity of your institution, take a clear and firm stand, even if it entails personal or professional risks. Demonstrating leadership in such situations is crucial.
- Voice Your Concerns Publicly: In Florida, it’s mostly retired university presidents who are making statements against these issues. Encourage not only retired but also current university leaders to speak out against political interference. Public statements from active leaders can have a significant impact and inspire others to follow suit.
The critical nature of the current situation in higher education is a pivotal moment in the history of institutions. We are reminded that what’s happening in Florida is not just an isolated issue but a warning sign of the potential nationwide impact of political interference in academia.
Leaders in higher education are urged to recognize the severity of this crisis and respond with conviction and strength. It’s a call to action for maintaining the integrity and freedom of our academic institutions against partisan politics, ensuring these values are upheld for future generations.
About Our Podcast Guest
Henry “Hank” Reichman is the chair of the American Association of University of Professors’ Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and a professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay. Hank co-authored the AAUP report, “Political Interference and Academic Freedom in Florida’s Public Higher Education System,” released on December 6, as co-chair of a special investigating committee.
Professor of History, CSU East Bay1989-2010, Prof. Emeritus, 2015-present. Vice-President, AAUP, 2012-18, 2019-20; Chair, AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, 2012 2021; Chair, AAUP Foundation, 2013-2021. Author, Understanding Academic Freedom (2021); The Future of Academic Freedom (2019); Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools (1988, 1993, 2001); Railwaymen and Revolution: Russia, 1905 (1987). Editor (2009-15) and Associate Editor(1982-2009), American Library Association Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom.
About the Host
Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.
Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 185 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Henry “Hank” Reichman: AAUP Report on Political Interference in Higher Education
Drumm McNaughton: Hank, welcome to the show.
[00:00:02] Hank Reichman: Thank you, glad to be here.
[00:00:04] Drumm McNaughton: Glad to have you as well. This is a pretty serious topic. We’ve got going. The AAUP just released its recent report on “Political Interference and Academic Freedom in Florida’s Public Higher Education System”. Very sobering stuff and I really appreciate your taking the time to be on the show. The report came out what just a couple of days ago didn’t it?
[00:00:28] Hank Reichman: Yes, just this past Wednesday.
[00:00:30] Drumm McNaughton: And it is a jam packed with all sorts of information, but before we get into that, if you wouldn’t mind just giving our listeners a little bit of background on you and how you came involved with AAUP.
[00:00:43] Hank Reichman: I’m now a retired faculty member, a professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay. My field is actually Russian and European history, but back,when I first finished my PhD and there weren’t many jobs, I at one point got a job working as Assistant Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, and actually continued, editing one of their publications down until just a few years ago.
And that got me really interested in issues of intellectual freedom, free speech, and, once I did get back into academia, academic freedom. Got involved in particular in my union, the California Faculty Association, which is affiliated with the AAUP, and then got more involved in National AAUP, and in 2012, I was elected, first vice president, and I was also appointed as chair of the Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, a position I held for nine years until I was term limited out, and, I got really into it. I wrote two books on academic freedom. Participated in a lot of the AAUP’s investigations. and so now I still,I’m available as a volunteer for the AAUP when, these kinds of investigations are mounted. And they asked me to co chair, along with my colleague Afshar Jaffer at Connecticut College, professor of sociology there, to co chair this investigation of the Florida higher education system.
[00:02:09] Drumm McNaughton: Well, this is interesting because AAUP has been around for, what, about 110 years, somewhere in there?
[00:02:17] Hank Reichman: Almost 110 since 1915.
[00:02:20] Drumm McNaughton: And in its history, this is only the eighth special report that AAUP has done.
[00:02:27] Hank Reichman: Yes, that’s true, there are well over 100, maybe even 200 or 300, investigations of single institutions, but only eight times, beginning in the mid 1950s with an investigation of the Red Scare of those days, as the AAUP mounted these special investigations of multiple institutions. And interestingly enough, three of those have taken place in the last three years. An investigation of governance violations under COVID 19 in 2021, investigation of North Carolina higher education system, in 2022. And now, of course, this investigation of Florida, and I’ve had actually the great honor and privilege of serving on all three of those investigations.
[00:03:16] Drumm McNaughton: Well, that certainly speaks to your level of understanding about what’s going on at institutions, especially with this type of issue. So what is going on in Florida that made it rise to the level of a special report.
[00:03:35] Hank Reichman: Well, the committee was appointed in January, and by that time, Florida had, under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, enacted a series of pieces of legislation that were clearly politically and ideologically motivated attempts to direct and control and limit what can be taught in Florida’s college classrooms, how it can be taught, and ultimately as well, who can teach it because it, It amounted to assaults on faculty rights, both in the curriculum and in, faculty status, particularly an attack on tenure. Shortly after the committee was, appointed, or right around the same time, Governor DeSantis used the opportunity of a multiple,vacancies on the board of New College, which is a alternate institution within the Florida public higher education system, to appoint trustees, all of whom were highly ideological political activists. There were six of them, five of them out of state and they began to take control of New College and try to transform it into what clearly became the vision behind all that legislation.
[00:04:56] Drumm McNaughton: So before we get into the actual details, let’s talk a little bit about how you approach this. I mean, you did over 65 interviews with faculty, students, alumni. Tell us a little bit about the process that you used.
[00:05:13] Hank Reichman: As you said, we did over 65 interviews. They were conducted overwhelmingly, I think, perhaps entirely, online. But we spoke to faculty members. We spoke to students. We spoke to alums. We spoke to at least a few former presidents. Now, interestingly, we tried to, and wanted in the tradition of the AAUP’s attempt to be as fair minded as we can in these investigations, we attempted to speak to current administrators and political leaders, but were completely rebuffed. In most cases we didn’t even hear back. But, the chancellor of the, I think he’s called chancellor of the university system, Ray Rodriguez, and the head of the college system, Kathy Hebda, did respond to us and they claimed that they would not speak to us because we had already made up our minds in advance, which, of course, in a sense, had some legitimacy in that we had good reason to suspect that our concerns were justified, but we would have been more than happy to be convinced otherwise. Unfortunately, they refused to participate.
[00:06:23] Drumm McNaughton: From your report, it was, Kathy, Mulvey, who had said, “Since the president of AAUP has consistently concluded political interference exists in Florida’s higher education system, it is difficult to accept that the AAUP special committee will fairly and fully consider any testimony to the contrary.”
[00:06:45] Hank Reichman: Yeah. So that was their response referring to our current president, Irene Mulvey. But one, I mean, as we pointed out, in fact, is that one, President Mulvey is not a member of our committee and indeed no one on our committee works for the AAUP as a staff member, nor do any of us hold elected or any other office in the AAUP.
We are all volunteers, faculty members, and indeed the principle the AAUP tries to apply in all our investigations is to appoint people who have no connection at all with the institution being investigated and who have not made any prior public statements about that institution or the events they’re investigating.
And that was true as much true of this special investigation as any of the others. So we really try to be as open minded as we can be, but the principles that we apply are, of course, the standard principles of academic freedom, shared governance at the AAUP, along with others in higher education, have been developing and defending for over a century.
[00:07:56] Drumm McNaughton: Well, I need to make a quick correction to what I said. I said, Kathy Mulvey, it’s actually Kathy Hebda, who’s the chancellor of the Florida college system. And Ray Rodriguez, the chancellor of the Florida Board of Governors. So we’ll get into those in a little bit.
You released your preliminary report in July of 2023. You offered four main takeaways, which I know changed a little bit, but those four were the hostile takeover of New College, as both a test case and a blueprint for future encroachments on public colleges and universities across the country. Academic administrators in Florida not only have failed to contest attacks on the system, but have too frequently been complicit in and in some cases explicitly supported them. Legislation DeSantis and the legislature taken collectively constitute a systemic effort to dictate and enforce conformity with a narrow and reactionary political and ideological agenda. And then lastly, the chilling effect on academic freedom from the Governor’s and Legislature’s efforts has already been felt by faculty and students. I mean, those four things in themselves are pretty damning.
[00:09:13] Hank Reichman: Yes, they are. And by the way, that preliminary report came out late May. And I want to point out, we issued that preliminary report, because we wanted to get something out there, but we knew there were still many people who really wanted to speak with us, and we felt we owed it to them. But also, we were concerned, that if we put out a full report, before the summer, that more things would happen over the summer, and indeed, more did, thatwe needed to call attention to. And of course, these things are not ending now, but we eventually decided that this was the time to put out our permanent report.
[00:09:52] Drumm McNaughton: Well, it makes perfect sense. So the five areas in the report that was released. The takeover of New College, academic governance in Florida higher education, accreditation, special interests, and complicity or cowardice. Let’s unpack those a little bit.
[00:10:10] Hank Reichman: Well, that’s really just in part of to the first 2 sections of the report. Let me just, we came to basically five major conclusions, and I want to just read the first of them because I think it’s the most important, and it is one that we reinforced from the preliminary report, which is academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance in Florida’s public colleges and universities currently face a politically and ideologically driven assault unparalleled in U. S. history, which if sustained, threatens the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state, with dire implications for the entire country. And that’s our, I would argue that’s our principal conclusion. And then we have four other conclusions. One is about the takeover of New College, which we say is one of the most egregious and extensive violations of AAEP principles and standards at a single institution in recent memory.
And then we talk about how shared governance stands in mortal danger, principally because of legislative and governing board interference, as well as administrator administrative complicity. Attacks on academic freedom, and finally that the fact that the government’s assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and on so called woke disciplines, reflects not only a blatant disregard for academic standards of governance and academic freedom, but also a discriminatory and biased assault on the rights of racial minorities and LGBTQ communities.
So that, those are our major conclusions and we can go in now to the specifics in several of those areas.
[00:11:54] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, let’s do that. Thanks for sharing those. When I take a look at the first portion of that, the takeover of New College, it is a very systemic approach to blowing up normal standards of independent board governance.
Florida requires public universities to have 13 trustees, 11 of whom are voting. The governor appoints six trustees and the Florida higher ed board of governors, we mentioned them earlier, appoint five. So right there, you know, if the governor appoints six people, there’s a voting majority right there.
[00:12:36] Hank Reichman: Oh, yes, and in fact the way this takeover took place is there were six openings five for the governor, which he had held back on appointing for a while, and the sixth the board of governors. But the governor appoints the board of governors and under DeSantis, the board of governors has been highly politicized and clearly more concerned with pleasing the governor than addressing the real needs and issues of various constituencies within the institutions.
And so they appointed the sixth, and that gave a clear majority on the board. And what is most striking about New College is that, as you say, this board engineered coup, if you will, or some have called it a hostile takeover, has allowed the Governor to use New College as the model for what he and his minions would like to see all of higher education become.
[00:13:36] Drumm McNaughton: And many of these board members that have been put in place, they’re not from Florida, are they?
[00:13:44] Hank Reichman: No, five of the six appointees are non Floridians, and none of them are educators. Now, that’s not all that abnormal for college boards to have people from the business world, religious institutions, or other things, sit on the board, and that often can be very healthy for an institution, but in this case, each one of these appointees are in facthighly ideological, highly political individuals. And indeed, probably no state where public higher education boards aren’t to some degree politicized. Obviously, Democratic Governors tend to appoint Democrats, Republicans tend to appoint Republicans. But in most cases, and for most of the last several decades at least, people who have those appointments understand that their first responsibility is to the institution and its mission, and not first and foremost to the person who appointed them.
[00:14:45] Drumm McNaughton: Isn’t that what fiduciary duties are all about?
[00:14:49] Hank Reichman: Yeah, yeah. And fiduciary usually is understood mainly in the financial sense, but of course they have a responsibility to the whole mission. And clearly, they do not have the responsibility to impose a different mission on an institution without, I mean, you could, state legislatures, private institutions as well, often change the basic mission as times change, but it’s often only under extensive consideration with democratic consultation with all the affected parties, especially when it comes to curriculum, and faculty status and things like that with the faculty.
But of course the faculty has had no voice in these changes.
[00:15:32] Drumm McNaughton: Well, you have a new board. They fired the old president. They hired a new president, someone who is very tied to governor DeSantis. The new president is making more than two times what the former president made. Then the first board meeting, when the new board was there, they bring up a number of people for tenure. What happened there?
[00:15:56] Hank Reichman: Well, there were seven people who were supposed to come up for tenure and they were coming up one year early, which we were told by many people was very common at New College, if people are qualified and have had stellar evaluations for their first five or six years. I can’t remember the number of years it is.
They went through it and the initial interim president who was appointed approved their applications. They were only going to go to the board for final rubber stamp, usually approval. But then President Corcoran, once he was appointed as interim president, he’s now the permanent president, called in the seven and said he asked them to withdraw their applications and if they didn’t, the board would reject. Two of those seven agreed to do so, but the other five said, no, we want our applications to go up. They were approved to the department level, the school level by the Dean, by the provost and by the preceding president himself, who was interim president after the original president had been fired by the new board, and he is now the provost. And so the board then, in a blanket vote, without paying any attention to the individual qualifications of any of these candidates said, we’re not approving it, they were denying tenure to all of them.
[00:17:17] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. was there reason given?
[00:17:20] Hank Reichman: The closest thing to a reason was that, we’re in the midst of redefining the mission, so maybe they won’t fit the mission.
[00:17:28] Drumm McNaughton: Okay.
[00:17:30] Hank Reichman: And that was the closest we got.
[00:17:32] Drumm McNaughton: Doesn’t a change of mission have to go through the accreditor as a substantive change?
[00:17:38] Hank Reichman: Well, you would think so, you would think so.
[00:17:40] Drumm McNaughton: Okay.
[00:17:41] Hank Reichman: Look, this is, I mean, this is really what we saw at New College.It’s bad enough on its own. If we had done a traditional institutional investigation of New College, I have no doubt that the recommendation would have been for the AAUP to place the institution on its central list, and it indeed may still do that, I hope they will, personally.
So even outside the context of the broader effort in Florida, what was done in New College is really shocking. I’ve heard of, at least certainly in recent decades, of a case of a board interfering with the structure of the college in such a blatant way, in particular focusing not on financial issues or anything like that, but simply on, “we want you to teach what we want being taught. Even though we have no expertise in any of these subjects”.
[00:18:33] Drumm McNaughton: You know, one of the comments that I sawin your study was they were terminating programs that don’t fit in their definition of classic liberal arts model. I. e. gender studies being one of them.
[00:18:47] Hank Reichman: Well, they did, they eliminated the gender studies program and of course, this is all under the banner of fighting, to use Governor DeSantis’s term, “woke ideology”, which basically is anything or anti racist or vaguely left wing that they don’t like. So they decided they would get rid of gender studies. Now, the interesting thing is it was an interdisciplinary program at New College, as it is in many, if not most, institutions. And it took faculty from all different departments. It had only one regular faculty member in that department and he was not tenured, and they just immediately fired him. Well, they fired him by not renewing his contract. I mean, of course, then he resigned before they even had a chance to, to do that. But, their argument is that they want, what they call the classical liberal arts curriculum. The problem of course is that there’s no indication that this classical curriculum, which some of the trustees, at least, are trying to model after a private religious institution, Hillsdale College, and it’s problematic, of course, to have a religious curriculum in a public institution, but there’s no evidence that one, anyone in the New College community wanted this, or two, that there’s demand from outside in Florida for this.
And as a result, of course, applications went down. People were not returning after a year, and so they needed to recruit new students. Well, did they recruit classic studies majors? No. One of the things they did, they went out and they recruited athletes. Now this is striking because New College has never had an intercollegiate athletics program, but they decided to at least build with baseball and they recruited 70 freshman baseball players on athletic scholarship. Now the University of Florida, which has 90 times as many students, has only 37 baseball players at all class levels on scholarship.
[00:20:56] Drumm McNaughton: Mm
[00:20:56] Hank Reichman: Moreover, of course, because they never had an intercollegiate athletics program, New College doesn’t have a baseball field. What they now have are batting cages in one of the parking lots.
[00:21:08] Drumm McNaughton: Ouch. Interesting.
[00:21:12] Hank Reichman: So this notion that they’re going to have a new curriculum and a different curriculum, it’s clear that they don’t know what they’re really doing. And one of the things I think is implicit, this isn’t something we say explicitly in the report, but I don’t see how anybody reading the report cannot see it, is that these people are far better at destroying than they are at building.
[00:21:33] Drumm McNaughton: Mm. Mm. That’s very sad to hear. We’ve only got a limited amount of time. I’d like to move on to the next portion because I think it’s really important, but just kind of to wrap up, you’ve got problems, students registering for courses, completing their degrees. You can’t find faculty members. You can’t hire faculty members in. It’s a mess at this point. So. Academic governance in Florida higher education. You’ve got a state university system board of governors, 17 people on the board, 14 are appointed by the governor, the chancellor is appointed by the governor. Each state university has a board of 13 members, 11 are voting, six are appointed by the Governor, 5 appointed by the board of governors who’s appointed by the Governor.
Frankly, when I look at it, if they let the vacancies pile up, they could take over any public university in the state of Florida. Am I reading that correctly?
[00:22:35] Hank Reichman: I think you are, I fear you are, let me say it this way. They certainly have now taken over the Board of Governors, which has found itself, in a few cases, even clashing with the institutional boards of trustees where there are still people, including Republican appointees, who are taking seriously that they have an obligation to the institution.
One example is at Florida Atlantic University, where they did a search for a president. and one of the pieces of legislation that the DeSantis administration pushed through, which had been rejected multiple times by the legislature in prior years, was to exempt presidential searches from Florida’s open records laws so that these searches can essentially be conducted in secret. And, they did a search for a president of Florida Atlantic, and, the requirement now was to publicize when they have finalists and several of the searches, they were coming up and saying, we have one finalist, you know, well, Florida Atlantic, the Board of Trustees did it right. And they had three finalists, all of whom, at least on paper, seem highly qualified.
The faculty there felt that the search was done honestly, but one name was absent from that list of finalists, a state legislator named Randy Fine, a crony of the Governor’s,who had announced that he was interested in the job and assumed he would get it. as soon as that announcement was made and his name wasn’t in there, the Board of Governors moved in and suspended the search.
[00:24:15] Drumm McNaughton: Wow. I’ve not heard of that one before.
[00:24:17] Hank Reichman: Yeah, so it’s clear the Board of Governors is under the control of the Governor in a veryunproductive and cronyish, shall we say, way. I can’t speak to the Board of Trustees of each of the 20 something institutions in the system, but certainly New College’s Board of Trustees is even more under the control of the Governor, and I assume that’s true of multiple other institutions.
[00:24:45] Drumm McNaughton: Most public institutions in most states, there is a degree of this type of thing that goes on. I remember a search that happened, in fact, the university of South Carolina got in quite a bit of trouble for it, because the governor interjected himself in that search. But most institutions In public, public higher ed, there is some of that influence there because of the way the trustees for the institutions are appointed.
Is this so much more egregious?
[00:25:24] Hank Reichman: Yeah, I think it is. We live in the real world, of course, and, when the AAUP was formed,
[00:25:29] Drumm McNaughton: Unfortunately, sometimes.
[00:25:32] Hank Reichman: Yes, there was a tendency in the early AAUP that wanted to have as our position that universities should not be run at all by boards of trustees, but by their own faculties.
[00:25:44] Drumm McNaughton: Hmm.
[00:25:45] Hank Reichman: In an ideal world, speaking as a faculty member, I think that would be very good, but it’s not realistic in the United States and the AAUP basically has long recognized that. Instead, we have worked to have an understanding of shared governance. In which boards of trustees, the administrations they appoint, the faculties of the institution, each have their own designated main responsibilities and they all agree that they are obligated to work together cooperatively. More often than not, that has worked fairly well.
There are clearly abuses, always will be, I’m sure. And yes, it would be silly. Not just idealistic, but really just silly, to assume that universities can or even should be completely insulated from politics.
[00:26:38] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.
[00:26:39] Hank Reichman: But this is at a whole different level. These appointments are crassly political in two senses of the word political.
One, they have a political and ideological agenda, but two, they’re political in the sense that they’re about payoffs to cronies. I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s always corruption, but it certainly has an odor of backscratching and, payoffs, et cetera. You look at New College where, the people who’ve been hired, they’re often highly politically connected with no qualifications for the positions to which they’ve been appointed.
Mm hmm. I’ve seen that in multiple cases and unfortunately, it’s happened with more frequency in Florida than it has in other places. I’ve been told by several people, the Institute, and they said, you have to understand that Florida has never been perfect on this. We’ve been one of the worst places, but even they who urged us totake into account the history said this is already a qualitative leap. Shall we say?
[00:27:44] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. Yeah, it seems more qualitative. It seems more logarithmic. Right along with this is accreditation, which was one of the areas that you looked at in the report. The SB7044 bill that Governor DeSantis pushed across requiring that Florida public institutions have to change accreditors within a certain period of time. That’s been a real mess too.
[00:28:19] Hank Reichman: Yes, it has and Governor DeSantis, of course wants to blame holding institutions to standards as Preventing the state from doing what it wants In higher education and so that the requirement that was imposed was that all the institutions must, originally was going to have to change accreditors every I think it was five years. I think they now, modified it that it had to be at least once the life of the, of the bill, I guess, but, the problem, of course, is that the Department of Education, which mandates accreditation because higher education institutions in the state, while they are in a sense, creatures of that state, they are highly dependent on federal funding, including federal funding for scholarships, student loans, etc. And the Federal Government requires that, look, if we’re going to give you a lot of money, we want you to uphold certain minimum standards. But we as the Federal Government don’t want to be in the business of telling everybody what to do. So we will empower private institutions to do this for us. Those are the accrediting agencies and accrediting bodies. that system would collapse if every institution could go shopping around for an accreditor. and the Department of Education said, look, if you want to change your creditors, that’s fine, but we want to know why.
[00:29:54] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.
[00:29:55] Hank Reichman: And when they demanded that of two Florida institutions, Governor DeSantis decided to file suit against the whole accreditation system. And now that’s in the courts and no one knows what will happen, I hope certainly he’ll be turned down. Now, I want to say one final thing about accreditation, because I think this is important. There’s much to be criticized in our current accreditation system. I know I, as a faculty member, have felt that the accreditors have not been strong enough in fighting for faculty rights and for academic freedom and principles of shared governance. But what the DeSantis administration is doing in Florida not only will not address that problem, it’s designed to make the problem worse.
[00:30:40] Drumm McNaughton: Well, what I find interesting about the lawsuit is Florida feels that they are the owner of their public institutions and that they can do whatever they want. In the lawsuit, it’s a state governments are the owners of state institutions and that as creatures of the state, these schools are responsible to the state legislature and the state government.
So if the legislature or the state government directs that these schools should act in a particular way, they should not be prohibited from doing so.
[00:31:14] Hank Reichman: Well, this is very dangerous,
[00:31:17] Drumm McNaughton: Yes.
[00:31:17] Hank Reichman: attitude, because in one sense it’s true, they are, if a state decides that it wants to put more of its resources into its community colleges than into its research university or vice versa, if it decides that it wants to, have one simple single system of higher education, or if it wanted to break it down into multiple institutions, they can do that. If it wants to fund Engineering, but not law it can do that.
Nobody is denying that but what they want is to say we want to be able to use federal money to not only do the programs we want, but to tell the programs what and how they can teach
[00:32:06] Drumm McNaughton: mm
[00:32:07] Hank Reichman: in those programs. And what standards will be applied. And the federal government says, look, we’re not going to tell you you have to have a law school. You can’t have an engineering school or the other way around. But if you’re going to teach law or if you’re going to teach engineering, you’re going to conform to the standards set by experts in law and engineering.
[00:32:31] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm makes makes perfect sense to me. The Department of Education doesn’t get to accredit any individual institutions. They certify federal financial aid. That came out of the Higher Education Act of 1965, so it’s congressionally mandated that these have these accreditors. It was only one state, New York, who actually was in the business of accrediting schools and New York got out of that in March of 2023, this year. And so, it’s a, it’s a smoke screen for Florida wanting to do what they want to education.
[00:33:11] Hank Reichman: I think that’s true and, and what they want to do can be seen in New College and in the other laws they’ve passed.
[00:33:19] Drumm McNaughton: Very much. So there were a couple of other smaller things in your conclusions in the report, the special interest, so much money flowing into donor funder centers, and then one of the areas I thought was very important was the complicity or the cowardice the, quoting out of the report, “administrators in Florida not only have failed to contest attacks on the system, but have too frequently been complicit in and in some cases explicitly supported them.
[00:33:49] Hank Reichman: Yeah, so this was, I think, if there are two real big takeaways from our report. One, terrible suffering that this has caused for so many people, especially among the faculty, but also among students. We’ll get to that in a but this other thing is the sense that so many university administrators, from Deans on up to University Chancellors and Presidents , have been so complicit or at least silent in the face of these attacks.
One of the most dramatic things is the section where we talk about academic freedom. One of the earliest signs of this was at the University of Florida, where the university tried to prevent several faculty members from testifying before the legislature in areas of their expertise, about, proposed legislation because they were testifying against the legislation, which was favored by the Governor.
And hence they said, we’re funded by the state, so you can’t testify against the state. And several of the professors filed a lawsuit, and the U. S. district judge in the case,quite admirably, said they’re absolutely right and threw out the conflict of interest policy that justified this. But he pointed out in his decision, he said, you know what? The Governor never actually asked for this, nor did the legislature. This was a kind of preemptive subordination that they engaged in, in order to say, The Governor would be pleased, I think, if we stop them from testifying, so let’s do that, and then maybe the Governor will like us and give us money. that’s a terrible
[00:35:40] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. That’s that’s horrible. Well, you know, we’ve talked about the assaults on academic freedom, tenure, the impacts on curriculum, DEI, CRT, the bias and discrimination. We really haven’t gotten into the human toll yet. And this is a major thing. We just touched a little on the administrators, but faculty and students, this is, this has got to have been so difficult on them.
[00:36:08] Hank Reichman: Well, yes, and I have to say that, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve done quite a few of these AAUP investigations, including all three of the recent special investigations, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people. I’ve never had an experience like this, where in interview after interview, it was not even just that it was more informative or anything because a lot of times we’d hear the same thing over and over again. We know it, and sometimes the information they gave us would already be available in the public record. But what we heard was the pain. In more than a few of our interviews, people we were talking to broke down and cried.
[00:36:51] Drumm McNaughton: Wow.
[00:36:52] Hank Reichman: in several of them, members of our special committee broke down and cried.
It was just so painful to hear people who were, this is especially true at New College, people who felt that they had gone to or were working at an institution that they loved with students that they thought were the best that they’d ever had and they saw it all just being destroyed in front of their eyes, and course they’re voting with their feet, at New College. Over 40 percent of the faculty has already left, and I want to point out that this isn’t just in disciplines like gender studies, ethnic studies, history, sociology. It’s in biology, botany, mathematics, physics, and it extends now across the whole higher education system in Florida. And indeed our findings, this have already been validated, I mean, the report just came out this past week, but the substantial writing and research was completed by the end of October, and even since then major articles in both the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education have documented even furtherthe growing dissatisfaction of faculty members in Florida leaving and what this is going to mean, of course, for the quality of higher education is dramatic, but I think the one thing I really want to stress is that is somebody once said about the MAGA movement, you know, the cruelty is the point. Well, I think, I don’t know if the cruelty was the point of all these reforms, but it’s certainly a major aspect.
[00:38:29] Drumm McNaughton: Well, the fallout is just, it’s devastating. A survey that you put out at some of your conferences of the 642 faculty members responding from Florida, almost 300, about 46 percent said they will seek employment outside the state in the next year. An overwhelming majority of faculty members surveyed, 95. 3 percent call Florida’s political atmosphere around higher education poor or very poor. I mean that speaks volumes.
[00:39:05] Hank Reichman: Right, it does and, and of course those who listen to this podcast know that the job market in academia is not exactly one where people can pick up and go wherever they want all the time, particularly in the disciplines that, are being assaulted the most, and so there are many people I’m sure who would leave, but can’t because they can’t find alternate employment or because they have family, other connections. It’s one thing to take a new job, but to, pull your kid out of high school when the kid might be entering junior year, et cetera, that’s not something people want to do.
And the interesting thing, again, as I said, is that the people who have a little more ability to leave. in STEM disciplines, even in business and law, they’re doing it.
[00:39:55] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. Well, I, I was going to ask you how this could happen, but it’s very plain to me. It’s as plain as the nose on your face as the saying goes. In Florida, you’ve got 51. 2 percent Republican and 47. 9 percent or 48 nine Democrat, across the state. Gerrymandering has enabled a super majority of Republicans in the legislature, both House and Senate.
So these views of minority, and it really is a minority driving all this, is pushed to the forefront in the name of politics and power. So the question I have for you, is this a bellwether for the rest of the U.S.?
[00:40:48] Hank Reichman: Well, it’s certainly a warning, and hopefully not a bellwether or a harbinger, but, we already see legislation very similar to the array of laws passed by the DeSantis administration in Florida, either being partially enacted or being proposed in so called red states around the country. Texas, most notably, but just, this week in Ohio, SB83, which, includes a number of the same provisions as have been enacted in Florida, has now moved out of committee andits sponsors claim it has enough votes to pass the Ohio House.
We have seen similar proposals in North Carolina, where at the moment at least the Democratic governor holds veto power. It’s a matter of concern, and I think our report concludes that while what’s happening in Florida is horrible, the fight isn’t over. Including, I would add, in Florida,and really we hope that our report will be, not just a doom and gloom study, but, a call to action, something to inspire people to say, “I can’t just sit by anymore. I got to get a little bit more involved, even if that just means giving money or just, joining the AUAP or what have you”.
[00:42:12] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, from your report when we fight for free inquiry, we fight not just for the ability of individuals to teach and write freely. We fight for the generations to come and for their ability to understand and envision a world that is more than a reflection of the interests of those in power.
[00:42:33] Hank Reichman: It is.
[00:42:34] Drumm McNaughton: So takeaways for university presidents and boards as many or as few as you want.
Read the report. That’s your first takeaway.
[00:42:45] Hank Reichman: Please, read the report. but don’t just read the report. Try to figure out what it means for you. And I think one of the things that university presidents, administrators below them, provosts, even deans, et cetera, need to learn from this report is that, you need to grow a spine. And I know it is not easy and I do not envy university administrators who are stuck in the middle trying to defend their institutions, their faculties, their students, knowing full well that the people they’re defending against have the power of the purse and even more than that. But at some point, it’s necessary to take a stand. It’s necessary to stand up and say, this is not right.
And even if that means you may lose your job, I think more people will stand up. It’s interesting to me that we’ve now begun in Florida to get statements, but they’re all these statements from retired former university presidents. How much more powerful would it be if the presidents of the major institutions in Florida themselves currently put out a statement and simply said what retired presidents said a while back, the legislature and the Governor have gone too far. What would that do? And I think for administrators around the country, be prepared for this. An interesting development, by the way, just the other day, just this week in Wisconsin, where the Republican super majority legislature has been withholding money from the University of Wisconsin demanding that they eliminate DEI programs and do a number of the things that they’re part of the DeSantis program in Florida, and the administration of Wisconsin negotiated with them and made a deal in which they agreed, okay,we’ll freeze all DEI hiring and we’ll, and we’ll reduce the staffs by one third and we’ll do several other things that were basically, they basically caved in.
But the most interesting development to me was that agreement with the legislature was then brought to the Wisconsin Board of Regents. And believe it or not, the Wisconsin Board of Regents said, no, we’re not going to make those concessions. Now, I wonder about the administrators who made that deal, which they couldn’t even get their own regents to support.
What were they thinking? Why did they not feel backed up? When in fact, it looks like they did have at least some backing from their boards. I think everywhere around the country, I think administrators have to sit there and say, “These are not normal times. These are not normal budget negotiations. This is a crisis, and if we don’t respond to it, Florida will become, not an exception, not a horror show, but the common reality”.
[00:45:54] Drumm McNaughton: I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s gonna take people, like you say, growing a spine, being willing to stand up for what their values are. Hank, this has been a fabulous conversation. Thank you, sir.
[00:46:07] Hank Reichman: And thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. And thank you for having this podcast in general.
[00:46:12] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. I, I certainly enjoy having folks like yourself on, on a little lighter note. you guys are doing great work. Keep it up. Thank you.
[00:46:22] Hank Reichman: Thank you.