Ben Sasse, a Senator, and the Elections: Who Gets What? When Do College Presidents Have Their Postgraduates?
Editor’s Note: David M. Perry is a journalist, historian and co-author of “The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe.” The University of Minnesota has a senior advisor in their history department. Follow him on social media. The views expressed are of his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In March of last year, the Republican governor of Florida signed a bill that exempts the names of applicants for presidencies of public universities and colleges from public record laws. The lone finalist for the job of president of the University of Florida was Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska. In between that bill signing and now, at least as far as the general public is concerned, what happened is anyone’s guess.
This is a great example of what I refer to asgressive action. If “affirmative action” is a process intended to remedy the effects of discrimination, then it’s a process intended to preserve the status quo or even roll back an older model that privileges white guys. In this context, it defiles the ideals of a public university as an agent of equity and as a common good, not only because of the secret and political nature of the appointment, but also because of Sasse’s specific history.
Only 2% of college presidents have been from elected or appointed offices, and these appointments have always been controversial. And as bad as things were in 2014, we’re even more polarized today.
I have a PhD and am interested in Sasse because he is a senator. He is one of the two most prominent history PhDs in American politics. He received his doctorate from Yale in 2004 with a thesis on the rise of the Christian religious right in the US, worked for former President George W. Bush’s administration and then, after a short period teaching and consulting, became president of then-tiny Midland Lutheran College in Nebraska (now Midland University, with 1,600 students enrolled) for a few years before running for the Senate.
A current freshman at Florida, RJ Della Salle, told the student newspaper that he didn’t know whether Sasse was really prejudiced against LGBTQ students or was just pretending for political gain. Either way, he said, “We either have someone who’s a genuine homophobe as our president or we have a sleazy politician who just says what the people that he’s trying to get elected by want to hear.”
Sasse has responded to this criticism by stating that Obergefell is the “law of the land,” so there’s no need to worry, but that kind of reassuring rhetoric was used by conservative nominees to the Supreme Court about Roe v. Wade (and we know how that turned out – those protections of “settled law” are gone).
He has denounced abortion repeatedly over his career. Rahul Patel, the chair of the search committee, has said that “[Sasse is] putting aside politics and coming back to academia to lead us through this exciting new era.” Students at Florida, already organizing protests, don’t believe you can just erase a long history of hostile political acts by taking on a new job title.
The Supreme Court is about to rule that colleges and universities cannot take race into account in admissions programs in order to increase the number of African American and Hispanic students.
The justices heard from a total of five lawyers during the marathon session. Three argued on behalf of Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Two others – both former clerks to Justice Clarence Thomas – argued for the conservative group Students for Fair Admissions behind the challenge.
It would be questionable of the use of even race-neutral programs to have that position. Thomas, the court’s only Black male justice, was not impressed when a lawyer for the UNC said it would enhance the “truth-seeking” function of learning.
Patrick Strawbridge, representing Students for Fair Admission, said it would be permissible because the preference is “not being based upon race, but upon cultural experiences.”
The exchanged caused a skeptical Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, to exclaim, “The race is part of the culture and the culture is part of the race, isn’t it? I mean, that’s slicing the baloney awfully thin,” she said.
This is dangerous and it needs to have an end point. She wondered if Grutter was “grossly optimistic” and that in reality, schools would never stop taking race into consideration. She noted that Grutter called race classifications “risky and potentially poisonous.”
Roberts used the opportunity to highlight Grutter’s promise of 25 years, after Elizabeth Prelogar stated that eventually there would be an end point.
Roberts said that race matters because it’s necessary for diversity and the sort of education you want. You say race matters to give us the necessary diversity and it’s going to keep happening.
She wasn’t going to do that and then Justice Kavanak piled on. If you have no number, I understand how difficult it is. but if you don’t have something measurable, it’s going to be very hard for this court,” he said.
When does diversity matter in the education system? Revisiting a long-time UNC critic, Clarence Strawbridge, on the importance of diversity
Two attorneys who are representing the challengers were once clerks to Justice Clarence Thomas, one who was a critic of affirmative action.
His comments Monday suggested nothing had changed in his thinking. In fact, at times he went further than the other conservatives questioning whether diversity itself is even a compelling goal for schools in the first place.
“I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means,” he said Monday. It seems that it means everything for everyone.
She pressed Strawbridge about whether his group even has the legal right or standing to be in court, suggesting it lacked the legal injury necessary to bring the challenge because race was only one of many factors considered.
She asked during the UNC arguments why the race was different than the other factors the school considers. She said there are no points tallied and no set targets or quota.
She said that people had to keep their identities secret when they were in contact with the admissions office.
The case against the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as a Dedication of Raciality and Originalism in the State and in the Nation
She deployed questions when the court considered Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. She made a plea to her conservative colleagues who were against originalism. The Constitution must be interpreted based on what the founders intended and that’s why it is a doctrine. She said the 14th amendment understood race consciousness would be needed to ensure the equality and liberty promised in it and that the Constitution rejected language that insisted on a colorblind society.
On Monday Jackson continued along the same lines of questioning. She said the court shouldn’t overturn the precedent of decades-old history if there was any ambiguity.
Kagan spoke passionately about the importance of diversity. She told Strawbridge that it appeared his view was that “it just doesn’t matter if our institutions look like America.” If the schools are not racially diverse other areas of the business or the military would also lack diversity, as the school are the conduits to leadership.
“I thought that part of what it meant to be an American and to believe in American pluralism is that actually our institutions, you know, are reflective of who we are, as people in all of our variety.”
He has long been a critic of racial classifications. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” he wrote once.
She said the high cost of UNC’s color blindness is that it comes as a high cost to both the state and the nation.
She was able to push back against conservatives’ invocation of the 25-year time frame set by the Supreme Court when it ruled that affirmative action programs were no longer necessary.
“What we know, we have nine states who have tried it and in each of them, as I mentioned earlier, whites have either, white admissions have either, remained the same or increased. And clearly, in some institutions, the numbers for underrepresented groups has fallen dramatically, correct?”
While litigation continues, the various provisions of “Stop WOKE” and now the rejection of A.P. African American history could have devastating and far-reaching effects on the quality of education for Florida’s 2.8 million students in its public K-12 schools. There are the same reasons that the ‘STOP WOKE’ law is blocked from enforcement in university settings. As a federal judge ruled in November, the law strikes “at the heart of ‘open-mindedness and critical inquiry,’” such that “the State of Florida has taken over the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to suppress disfavored viewpoints.”
The bill makes good on DeSantis’ pledge to ban colleges and universities from any expenditures on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. In a news conference earlier this month, a man considering a presidential bid said such programs create an ideological filter and that his office characterized them as “discriminatory.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are intended to promote multiculturalism and encourage students of all races and backgrounds to feel comfortable in a campus setting, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities. The University of Florida is the flagship school of the state and has several offices for diversity.
Tuesday’s announcement was foreshadowed in December when the governor’s office asked all state universities to account for all of their spending on programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory.
The Republican governor has also installed a controversial new board at the New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college, with a mandate to remake the school into his conservative vision for higher education.
One of DeSantis’ new board members, Eddie Speir, wrote in an online post that he planned to propose in that meeting “terminating all contracts for faculty, staff and administration” of the school, “and immediately rehiring those faculty, staff and administration who fit in the new financial and business model.”
The president of Florida’s two-year community colleges committed earlier this month to not teach critical race Theory in a vacuum and not support any institutional practice or academic requirement that requires belief in critical race theory.
Black Lives Matter, slavery and queer theory are no longer subjects to be taught as a result of Wednesday’s official framework. They are included only on a list of topics that states and school systems could suggest to students for end-of-the-year projects.
Currently the course is being tested in 60 schools, and the official framework will guide the expansion of the course to hundreds of additional high schools next academic year. The College Board said that developers consulted with professors from more than 200 colleges.
The College Board has been taking input also from teachers running the pilot classes as the draft curriculum has gone through several revisions over the last year.
An introductory course on black history in african-american studies based on Frantz Fanon’s novel The Wretched of the Earth
“To wake up on Black History month and see news of white men in positions of privilege are essential to American history, is heartbreaking,” said David Johns of the National Black Justice Coalition. Black trans, queer, and non-binary people are important and should not be diminished or erased.
The course has been popular among students in schools where it has been introduced. At Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana, so many students were interested that Emmitt Glynn is teaching it to two classes, instead of just the one he was originally planning.
The Wretched of the Earth is a novel by Frantz Fanon, which deals with violence inherent in colonial societies. Students connected a text about the conflicts of colonization and Native Americans, police brutality in Memphis, Tennessee and the war in Ukraine, to their knowledge during a lively discussion.
“From the shores of Africa to where we are in the 1930s, we will continue on through history and we’ve been covering the range for a long time,” he said. He said he was proud to see the connections his students were making between the past and now.
Taking the class helped fill some of the gaps she has been taught. “Taking this class,” she said, “I realized how much is not said in other classes.”
Matthew Evans said the class has enlightened him on a number of perspectives on Black history. He said the political controversy is just “a distraction.”
The College Board’s AP course on African American Studies: An “Unflinching Experience with the History and Culture of the Civil Rights Movement”
AP classes in math, science, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts are offered by the College Board. The courses are not mandatory. Taught at a college level, students who score high enough on the final exam usually earn course credit at their university.
In a written statement Wednesday, College Board CEO David Coleman said the course is “an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture.”
Black women and men who were once excluded from this course, as well as gay Americans and people of faith who contributed to the anti-slavery and Civil Rights causes, are included. Everyone is seen,” he said.
The African American studies course is divided into four units: origins of the African diaspora; freedom, enslavement and resistance; the practice of freedom; and movements and debates.
Malcolm Reed, who teaches the AP class at St. Amant High School in Louisiana, wants to be careful about how his discussions with students affect them.
“I give them the information and I’ve seen light bulbs go off. I ask them, ‘How does it affect you? “How do you feel about learning this?” he asked. “It’s also new for me, and I’m just taking it in stride. We’re not just learning history, but we’re making history.”
That New College faces challenges is indisputable. The decline in its enrollee started last year. Its labs were old and its dorms were moldy. There are few activities outside of the classroom. In reviews posted on niche.com, a college ranking site, current and former students have criticized decrepit facilities, lack of structure and, in some cases, what they described as an obsession among students with identity politics.
“Everything that’s been happening has been very disruptive,” said Elizabeth C. Leininger, an associate biology professor, noting that the spring semester began the day before the Jan. 31 board meeting. When we get a hurricanes in Florida, everyone is preoccupied.
Student Disputes in Florida: New College, an Inadequacies for Students and Faculty in the Absence of Student Successes
The college performs poorly in state metrics — such as the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in high-demand fields and the percentage of graduates making at least $30,000 a year after graduation — designed for huge universities with economies of scale that the school just does not have.
The students, faculty, parents and alumni of New College were offended by the claims that students are being taught by far- left professors. Many said that the school welcomed young people who might not fit elsewhere — intensely bookish kids, bullied kids, kids with disabilities, queer kids — and required them to be driven.
A group of progressive young adults, who feel drawn to the existing student body, are attracted by that. That doesn’t mean that what is taught in classes is in line with students’ views.
Joshua is on his way to graduating next year after earning college credits and said that he was more conservative at New College. He credited professors who teach many points of view and encourage students to make their own judgments. He switched his major from political science to quantitative economics and hoped to become a corporate lawyer or an investment banker.
Hundreds of marchers, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other activists, held a rally outside Florida’s state Capitol on Wednesday to protest Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration’s rejection of a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies.
If you would have studied history for a long time you’d know that messing with us in education is always the end of your defeat, said Sharpton.
Our children need to know how bad we were but also how strong we are. They came from a group of people that fought on the bus to the White House.
The crowd included members of the LGBTQ, Native American and Latinx communities according to Sharpton. “You should have left us alone. Now you have brought us all together.”
The marchers chanted slogans like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ron DeSantis has got to go!” and “I’m Black and I’m proud!” Some carried signs with messages such as “Save our history” and “We will not be silenced.”
Shaia Simmons, a former teacher at the march, called the state’s rejection of the new course a “gross injustice” and a “slap in the face to all Americans.”
A letter from the Florida Department of Education to the College Board rejecting the new course went public in January and drew criticism from the White House as well as Black leaders.
The testing organization behind the new course last weekend accused the state Education Department of “slander” and spreading misinformation about it for political gain.
The College Board earlier this month released the official framework of the new Advanced Placement course on African American studies with many of the topics DeSantis objected to removed.
Christopher Rufo was one of the six trustees who were replaced in January by the new leader of the college.
Richard Corcoran was appointed as the interim president by the new board. The job will be filled by Corcoran from February 27 to September 1, 2024, with a base salary of $689,000.
The tragedy of New College of Florida and the fight against anti-DEI measures in hiring, as warned by former Gov. Abbott v.s. Mulvey
Sharf told CNN that people were scared for what would come and especially kids who weren’t graduating soon. “This is an obvious hostile political act.”
With mounting attacks on diversity and inclusion, students and activists fear that marginalized people will not have a safe place to get a college education in Florida.
Some critics also worry the state might influence other Republican-led states to adopt similar measures, dwindling their options even further. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demanded that state agencies stop using diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in hiring with his office, calling the practice “illegal.”
DEI policies and programs are created to promote representation for people who have historically faced discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
This could result in Florida colleges struggling to retain students and recruit faculty, Mulvey said. People pursuing graduate degrees in other states may choose to attend schools that support academic freedom.
Mulvey said that the consequences for students are enormous. “They are denied the opportunity to learn and grow, students are denied the opportunity to hear important perspectives. That’s the real tragedy.”
David said that policies that reject diversity will push people away from higher education in Florida.
Policies are designed to tell people they don’t matter, that’s what he said. Their contributions, their history, their ways of trying to strengthen democracy do not matter and should not be considered part of the version of America that they are now calling classical.
Johns likened the risks of anti-DEI measures to anti-abortion legislation adopted by several other states after Georgia passed the “heartbeat bill” in 2018. He fears New College of Florida is a test case for pushing conservatism at schools across the nation.
Some of the students at New College of Florida may end up going to college in another state. The school is home to nearly 700 students and 100 full-time faculty.
New College as a “Classical” College: Critics of DeSantis, Diaz, and Opposing to Be Left Behind
Sharf said she worries that the new board will erase the inclusive queer culture on campus to make the college more attractive for traditional affluent White students.
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in a statement that officials wanted New College of Florida to “become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South.” The college is located in southern Michigan.
Sharf would not want to attend the school that was called hillsdale of the south. “It would be too hostile to trans students and I would probably have to leave.”
The third-year anthropology student said DeSantis’ reform feels like a backlash against the progress on LGBTQ rights and racial justice in the nation.
Obraud also views it as an attack on educational freedom and on the safe space that New College and other universities across the country offer for students.
“That’s part of making education accessible to everyone and making sure that people feel safe is a huge part of making sure they are in a good position to learn,” Obraud said.
The New College of Florida was not a bastion of liberal ideology according to professor Chris Kottke.
Instructors have always instructed students to not think in a certain way. While the majority of the diverse clubs on campus don’t rely on state funding, he fears that they will be unable to continue to operate.
Disclosing a professor’s concerns on racial justice: a private interview with the Palm Beach Atlantic University
A professor at a Florida university is under review because his employer told him he is indoctrinating students.
The dean and provost wanted to speak with Joeckel privately at the end of the class, since he had been teaching a racial justice unit for many years without any complaints.
“The told me they had concerns that I was indoctrinating students. That was the exact word they used: indoctrinating,” Joeckel said. I had no idea this was happening.
CNN requested a comment from Palm Beach Atlantic University, but they did not respond immediately. On Friday, a university spokesman told WPBF that they could not comment on personnel matters.
The employee handbook of the university says that separation of employment may occur at the discretion of the university. It is not possible for the institution to give tenure, the review process for employment decisions regarding senior faculty that is meant to safeguard academic freedom.
Joeckel: Fighting for First Amendment Rights in Florida – A Response to a Florida Governor’s Decline of Advanced Placement African American Studies
A group of students came up with a defense for Joeckel. Lauren said she didn’t feel pressured to think a certain way because she hadn’t taken a lot of his classes.
He pushes students to be critical thinker and open-minded, even though he never wants to push his agenda on students. That was my experience,” she said.
The review of Joeckel’s employment comes as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has proposed plans to defund all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities in Florida. And his administration rejected a proposed Advanced Placement African American studies course in high schools.
I can only say that things like these don’t happen in a vacuum. According to Joeckel, the toxic political culture influenced what happened to him.
DeSantis claimed to be a First Amendment defender as recently as 2019. During his first gubernatorial run in 2018 he pledged on his campaign web site to defend “First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.”
To escape this escalating tit-for-tat battle of assaults on speech will demand leadership. University presidents need to stand up and insist, and ensure, that all viewpoints – left and right alike – get a fair hearing on campus. They also need to resist legislation that affects the curriculum and academic freedom.
No matter your political beliefs, this escalating battle for control over our public discourse should be worrying those who care about free speech. The left doesn’t want to listen to people who offend or threaten them. The right – led by DeSantis – is going a major step further, legitimizing the use of government power to render certain books, ideas and viewpoints off-limits. The principle of free speech may be the biggest casualty of this battle, neither progressive nor conservative ideas.
In order to push back against what he decries as wokeness run amok, he has embraced the very tactics he once decried, putting the weight of government power behind efforts to viewpoints that offend him and his supporters.
DeSantis’s tactics are winning adherents in Florida and fueling momentum for a national campaign. It is crucial to understand what the governor and his supporters are fighting for. DeSantis has fanned fears that progressives have taken control of schools and universities, imposing an ideological agenda that DeSantis argues is at odds with the values of most Floridians.
The new visibility and appreciation of transgender and non-binary identities and rights has raised important questions about pronouns, bathrooms, sports and the autonomy of adolescents. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 led to the creation of a new strategy to root out racism in schools, colleges and companies. Positive developments are essential to bringing about a more equal society.
In some cases, though, efforts to promote equity cross over into censoriousness. Just last week Roald Dahl’s publisher announced plans to scrub beloved works like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda” of references that could be construed as offensive to the overweight, wig-wearers or people with horse-like features. The Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler and which was scheduled for a student performance in 2015, was canceled due to the fact that it did not acknowledge that not all women have vaginas.
Some curricula and programs offer simplistic, monolithic or flat-out illiberal ideas about racial issues, dismissing challenging questions or alternative perspectives as rooted in racism, reeking of undeserved privilege or otherwise beyond the pale.
A professor at the University of Central Florida was sacked in 2020 after he commented on the plight of black people. While the university claimed he was guilty of misconduct, an arbitrator found no just cause for his determination and ordered him reinstated. The incident was part of a larger pattern.
The federal appeals court struck down the harassment policy because of its breadth and slipperiness. The court found it “clear that a reasonable student could fear that his speech would get him crossways with the university and that he’d be better off just keeping his mouth shut.”
A new bill would change power at state schools to the Republican leader, while banning gender studies from being part of a college degree program.
The legislation, filed this week, would also require that general education courses at state colleges and universities “promote the values necessary to preserve the constitutional republic” and cannot define American history “as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” General courses with a curriculum based on exploratory or speculative content would be against the rules.
The bill would put all hiring decisions in the hands of each universities’ board of trustees, a body selected entirely by the governor and his appointees, with input from the school’s president. A board of trustee member could also call for the review of any faculty member’s tenure.