Presidential Scholars in Residence: Two faces from New College’s new program
Cook Hall, New College of Florida. Courtesy of Lawrence G. Miller on Flickr.

Presidential Scholars in Residence: Two faces from New College’s new program

The Presidential Scholars in Residence program invites academics to teach at New College as visiting faculty. Separate from the hiring process for other faculty, these individuals are appointed solely at President Richard Corcoran’s discretion. It is not unusual for university presidents to appoint visiting scholars. In an article for Sarasota Magazine, Corcoran explained that the program will improve the college’s academic status

Corcoran and Director of Communications Nathan March did not respond to the Catalyst’s questions about the hiring and approval process of the Presidential Scholars, their affiliation with specific New College programs, course offerings and other details. But the Catalyst spoke with two Presidential Scholars Novos can expect to see on campus next year – Dr. Bruce Gilley and Joseph Loconte – to get their perspectives and what they hope to accomplish as scholars in residence. 

Joseph Loconte’s new classes in Western Civilization, Tolkein and Lewis

Joseph Loconte. Photo courtesy of Joseph Loconte.

“I think we’re defining it as we go in some ways,” Loconte stated when asked what the responsibilities of the position are. “I’ve got two courses I’m teaching – just to give you the mechanics of it. I’m teaching Western Civilization [and] a course on J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.” Loconte said he has been teaching in higher education for 12 years on the East coast. He is also a New York Times best-selling author on Tolkein and Lewis, has contributed to popular publications including the Washington Post and identifies as a John Locke scholar. 

Loconte explained that his passion is understanding both the failings and achievements of Western civilization by teaching it with honesty. “You can do a paper trail on me,” he offered when asked what he hopes to bring to New College “I’ve worked at conservative institutions. “I think the conservative movement is in a bad place intellectually and morally. Political liberalism is in a bad place. I’d like to bring to the table – here’s a Locke scholar who cares about the liberal democratic tradition. He sees it warts and all, and he can approach this history with intellectual honesty and seriousness and some passion. 

“We’ve got to hang on to this [cultural] inheritance because it can slip away,” Loconte continued. “I want to help young people see… that they have a role in preserving this classical liberal political tradition. They have a hugely important role, and education is the key. I hope I can help to make New College a haven of academic sanity – not left, not right, but what we call the classical liberal tradition where we take intellectual life seriously. We are dedicated to a proper understanding and intellectually honest teaching of the humanities. If this school can be a haven of sanity in that way and I can be a part of it, that would be terrific.”

Loconte highlighted “a need for New College to, whether you call it establish or reestablish, itself as a beachhead that is defending the best in the Western tradition… Honest about the failings, but not ashamed to discuss and to debate the great achievements of this particular philosophical Western tradition. If New College can establish itself that way as a public school and as an honors college, I think that can have ripple effects in the academic world to see that it can be done. We can do that with civility and a bit of honesty.”

A case for colonialism

Bruce Gilley. Photo courtesy of Bruce Gilley.

Gilley is a political science professor on sabbatical from Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon. As stated in the Feb. 29 New College Communications news release about his appointment, he is “perhaps best known for writing ‘A case for colonialism’ in 2017.  Originally published in Third World Quarterly, the publication later withdrew the article after hostile feedback that included threats of violence against the publication’s editor. It was republished [in] the Spring 2018 issue of the National Association of Scholars’ journal Academic Questions.” 

Gilley said he has been teaching in higher education for 20 years. When asked by the Catalyst about what classes he will be offering next semester, he explained that he was unsure. He stated that he’d likely be slotted into whatever program requirements the school needs filled. “There’s lots of things I’m interested in teaching,” Gilley explained. “But I’ve been in higher education long enough to know… you basically do what the department needs you to do, and that’s as it should be.” 

Gilley said he hopes he can bring energy and integrity to New College’s academics along with his experience at research-intensive PSU. “You need to have faculty who have a pretty rigorous research agenda. I hope to come and model for faculty what it means to be both a great scholar as well as a great teacher,” he said.

Gilley emphasized that he views a Presidential Scholar’s responsibility to be sharing, mentoring, teaching and collaborating with students in the classroom as well as contributing to bigger-picture curricular program development. He has also discussed starting a study abroad program for NCF students in Thailand with a partner university of PSU’s. Gilley stated that modeling what higher education and intellectual integrity looks like is another job for the scholars. 

 “A case for colonialism,” highlighted in the New College press release, has been a point of controversy around Gilley’s appointment as a Presidential Scholar. In the article, Gilley advocates for a revival of colonialism by stating that colonialism was a net good for the development of society. As mentioned in the release, Gilley’s article was initially published in Third World Quarterly (TWQ) and then withdrawn due to backlash. It was republished elsewhere the following year. “A case for colonialism” has sparked outrage in academic circles, with almost 11,000 people petitioning for its removal upon its release. After its publication in TWQ, 15 of the editorial board’s 34 members resigned with an official letter claiming that the editor-in-chief and sole owner of the journal published the piece unilaterally rather than through a fair peer review process.

 “The editor lied about the peer review process,” Lisa Ann Richey, a previous member of the editorial board, told the Catalyst in an email interview. “Do remember that it is not at all common for a scholarly journal to have a sole owner who controls it – in fact, when I asked the editor at Taylor & Francis, I was told that TWQ was the only journal in their stable with that ownership model.”

“Our speculation is that it’s because it was clickbait, it sparked a political debate, and so the editor decided to publish it for that rather than its scholarly merit,” said Ilan Kapoor, another previous board member who was reached by Zoom. 

Kapoor told the Catalyst that beyond the dishonest peer review process, Gilley’s article is constructed on poor scholarship. He commented that Gilley’s belief that one can assign weight to historical phenomena and analyze history through a cost/benefit analysis is unscholarly.

“Even if you do that, what do you include [and] what do you exclude from your tally? How do you compare systemic violence to the building of railways and schools?” Kapoor asked. “The problem with the scholarship is that he has completely distorted the historical record. In a way, he conceals the overwhelming evidence of gross crimes against humanity in his article. It’s not only unscholarly, but it’s morally and ethically highly problematic.” Kapoor elaborates on this point further in his article “Decolonising Development Studies.”

Asked by the Catalyst if he would like to comment on the colonialism controversy, Gilley stated that anyone interested in a response to his critics will find lots of videos and lectures from the past seven years, as well as his recent book release, The Case for Colonialism, with a lengthy response. 

“Students welcomed me with open arms and thanked me, especially students from former colonies at PSU. [They] said thanks for reminding these White film studies professors at Portland State that they don’t get to tell us what we think about our history story,” Gilley said when asked about how PSU received him following the article’s release. “The faculty on the other hand had a complete meltdown.” In 2021, the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (PSU-AAUP) released a newsletter condemning Gilley and referring to his pro-colonialism platform as an abuse “created under the guise of academic freedom.” 

The AAUP also voted to sanction New College for disregard of shared governance in February. AAUP’s report stated that the academic takeover “stands as one of the most egregious and extensive violations of AAUP principles and standards at a single institution in recent memory.”

Gilley acknowledged that the article has proved to be a huge distraction to his main research. “I realized how desperately the academic environment needed someone to make the argument and muster the evidence in favor of what I’m doing, and I stepped up to the plate and did it. I think it was the greatest public service I’ve ever done for higher education, which is to break the bubble of mono-culture on that question and the lack of debate and the declining disappearance of standards and how you reason and find evidence, because only one opinion was allowed.

“I still have a lot of work I do on economics and public policy, I still work on democracy, I still work on legitimacy questions and politics,” Gilley continued. “I’m not expecting to come to New College and be Mr. Colonialism for a year because I’m pretty much done with that topic. It’s becoming tiresome to me because, at some point, once you put the case out and make the arguments and debate the critics, you kinda have done what you need to do. I’m ready to move on.”

Other critics such as political commentator and journalist Nathan Robinson have called Gilley’s interpretation of the colonial record on moral par with Holocaust denial. Gilley, however, has compared anti-colonial efforts as scapegoating of the White man and tantamount to hatred of the Jews. Gilley described Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonialist writings, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist as an “evil creed” comparable to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. His X account also advertises his Critiques of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Reading Group at PSU.

Screenshot from Gilley’s X profile.

“I did that the year after the George Floyd summer of destruction. I am a critic of Black Lives Matter. I think it’s a harmful and bigoted organization,” Gilley stated when the Catalyst asked about the Critiques of BLM Reading Group and if he’s interested in bringing it to New College. “But again, it’s kind of like colonialism – I said my piece on that and I don’t want my oxygen taken up by something that’s not my core interest.

“I encourage students to come to my office when I’m there on campus and ask as many questions and have as many debates as you want,” Gilley concluded. “That’s part of my job, in terms of what I said my goal is.”

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