Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 4, 2023

NY Times: Why Tax Prof Neil Buchanan And Other Liberal Tenured Professors Are Leaving Florida's Public Universities

New York Times, In Florida’s Hot Political Climate, Some Faculty Have Had Enough:

BuchananLiberal-leaning professors are leaving coveted jobs with tenure. And there are signs that recruiting scholars has become harder.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had just taken office in 2019 when the University of Florida lured Neil H. Buchanan, a prominent economist and tax law scholar, from George Washington University.

Now, just four years after he started at the university, Dr. Buchanan has given up his tenured job and headed north to teach in Toronto. In a recent column on a legal commentary website, he accused Florida of “open hostility to professors and to higher education more generally.”

He is not the only liberal-leaning professor to leave one of Florida’s highly regarded public universities. Many are giving up coveted tenured positions and blaming their departures on Governor DeSantis and his effort to reshape the higher education system to fit his conservative principles.

The Times interviewed a dozen academics — in fields ranging from law to psychology to agronomy — who have left Florida public universities or given their notice, many headed to blue states. While emphasizing that hundreds of top academics remain in Florida, a state known for its solid and affordable public university system, they raised concerns that the governor’s policies have become increasingly untenable for scholars and students. ...

Danaya C. Wright, a law professor who currently chairs the faculty senate, said she sees job candidates avoiding the state. “We have seen more people pull their applications, or just say, ‘no, I’m not interested — it’s Florida,’” she said. ...

To Christopher Rufo, a conservative writer and activist whom the governor appointed a trustee of New College of Florida this year as part of a campus shake-up, faculty departures are a plus.

“To me, this is a net gain for Florida,” he wrote in a statement, railing against diversity programs and transgender medical care. “Professors who want to practice D.E.I.-style racial discrimination, facilitate the sexual amputation of minors, and replace scholarship with partisan activism are free to do so elsewhere. Good riddance.”

The University of Florida’s law school has been particularly hard hit this year, with a 30 percent faculty turnover rate. Some of those professors said political interference contributed to their departures, while other faculty said Florida’s reputation had deterred professors elsewhere from joining.

Maryam Jamshidi said that after a 2021 law permitted students to record professors in the classroom, liberal-leaning professors feared they would see videos of their lectures on Fox News. “As a Muslim woman who works on issues of racism and American power, I didn’t feel like U.F. was a place I could safely be myself and do my work,” said Ms. Jamshidi, who now teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Questions about gender and race are fundamental to an array of legal arguments, from constitutional law to criminal justice and workplace discrimination. But in May, Governor DeSantis signed a bill that regulated what can be said in the classrooms and also barred university spending on diversity programs.

By that time, Kenneth B. Nunn had already decided to leave, one of several Black law professors who have recently departed.

In 2021, Mr. Nunn had been barred from signing a brief challenging state restrictions on voting by felons. Mr. Nunn said that signing such briefs is “something that is considered a matter of course for faculty to do anywhere else.”

The school later reversed itself on the question of whether he could sign, but Mr. Nunn took the episode as an indication of the university’s direction. He opted to retire from the law school, and is currently a visiting professor at Howard University.

For Dr. Buchanan, the economist and law professor, a final straw was the institution of a review process for tenured faculty, which he viewed as the end of academic freedom.

“It’s not just that the laws are so vague and obviously designed to chill speech that DeSantis doesn’t like. It’s that they simultaneously took away the benefit of tenured faculty to stand up for what’s right,” he said. “It’s tenure in name only at this point.”

Since Dr. Buchanan writes on tax policy from a progressive perspective, he said that he felt he could become a target any time.

“The Republicans who are running Florida,” he said, “are squandering one of the state’s most important assets by driving out professors who otherwise wouldn’t have wanted to leave.”

For more on Neil's decision to retire, see:

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