On Sept. 28, New College filed a cease and desist letter against the organization formerly known as ALT NEW COLLEGE. The organization’s name has since been changed to AltLiberalArts. The demand was filed on the basis of trademark infringement, claiming “the unauthorized use of the ‘NEW COLLEGE’ mark and the confusingly similar ‘ALT NEW COLLEGE’ mark constitute trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of state and federal laws.”
This demand came 10 days after AltLiberalArts’ first organized event, an online lecture on academic freedom led by philosopher Judith Butler and journalist Masha Gessen. The document was sent out to students in an email newsletter, as a part of a series of updates from President Richard Corcoran. In the newsletter, Corcoran called the legal action “necessary,” referring to New College’s marks as a “vital asset” and AltLiberalArts’ partner Bard College as an “enabler.” Further in the document, the use of infringing trademarks is discussed, stating “There can be no dispute that these actions have been willful, and were carried out in an effort to trade off goodwill associated with New College’s marks and/or to cause confusion.” To understand how this cease and desist demand has affected AltLiberalArts, the Catalyst conducted a virtual interview with former New College Board of Trustees (BOT) Chair and AltLiberalArts spokesperson Mary Ruiz (’78).
“We were not wanting to promote confusion between New College of anything,” Ruiz said. “New College of Florida, New College Berkeley, New College Oxford. So, to avoid that kind of confusion, we just changed our name. We are continuing to offer our lectures and courses online, so it hasn’t slowed us down.”
Considering AltLiberalArts’ rapid rebranding, a potentially expensive legal battle was effectively avoided.
“I’m very much aware that the money for lawyers is also coming from the New College side,” Ruiz said. “So, that takes away from the mission of the College. We don’t want to deflect resources away from the students and faculty.”
Responding to the notion that the cease and desist demand was a hostile action, Ruiz stated: “It’s the kind of thing where everything that happens is a learning opportunity. I don’t think that our intent was to cause confusion and if certain parties felt confusion was caused, we changed our name. I think the same thing could have been accomplished with a phone call, since there is good will on both sides.”
Despite the rebranding, one thing that has certainly not changed is the organization’s mission of fighting for academic freedom.
“What’s happened with this powerful idea is that many folks have come together and what we’re finding is incredible good will from faculty from Harvard and all over the world, who are offering to teach courses,” Ruiz observed. “I think that all liberal arts have become the focus point.”
The most recent AltLiberalArts course is a four-part lecture series on storytelling taught by American author and Bard Professor of the Arts Neil Gaiman. The series began on Oct. 12, continuing until the third lecture on Oct. 14, with the concluding lecture taking place on a date to be determined. Future online courses include a lecture titled “Science and Politics” with Harvard Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Naomi Oreskes, taking place on Oct. 25 at 4 p.m. A panel titled “Colleges and Universities as Civic Actors” with New College graduate and President of the American University of Bulgaria Margee Ensign and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Bard College Jonathan Becker is scheduled for Oct. 30 at 12 p.m. Opportunities to register for both events can be found on the AltLiberalArts website. It is worth noting that these courses are available to college students throughout the state of Florida.
“It’s not only New College where subjects have been repressed or threatened, or removed from the table,” Ruiz said. “It’s elsewhere in Florida and in other states, so AltLiberalArts is offering these courses for free, not just to New College students but to any student in Florida.”
Additionally, Ruiz encouraged students to propose ideas for courses that they’d be interested in. This can be done through the contact page on AltLiberalArts’ website. Further, Ruiz offered perspective to New College students still addressing all the change that has been happening.
“When I was a New College student, between my second and third year, New College merged with USF,” Ruiz concluded. “There were protests, there was chaos, half the faculty left. There are some similarities in those two experiences. My way of encouragement: many students left, but those that persisted, such as myself, I do not feel cheated in any way in my New College education. It was difficult and it was a distraction and it was uncertain, but I still got a world-class education because of our faculty.”