Provost dismisses ‘Living Well’ co-instructor

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New College of Florida is known for unique course offerings, which give students the opportunity to explore topics outside of academia. This semester, “Living Well and Living Together,” a for-credit course taught by the transpersonal psychologist Mark Libowitz, has been met with equal measures of enthusiasm, skepticism and controversy from students and faculty alike. On Thursday, Professor of Music and Provost Stephen Miles provided the Catalyst with a statement that said Libowitz would be relieved of his duties as a co-instructor of the tutorial after concerns were raised regarding Libowitz’s credentials and motivations.

“Living Well and Living Together” was designed to introduce students to the theories and practices of transpersonal psychology, a school of psychology, which emphasizes emotional well-being through guided meditation, expressive exercises and visualization. According to the Office of the Registrar, there are currently 32 students enrolled in the course.

Professor of Mathematics Karsten Henckell, the academic sponsor of the tutorial, said that the goal of transpersonal psychology is to bring all components of a student’s life into harmony.

“People will have a harmonious personality that will allow them to be maximally efficient,” Henckell said. “I would think that [transpersonal psychology] would boost their I.Q. by at least 50 points, because they get to really bring their whole potential to bear on a topic.”

Although Henckell was only recently introduced to transpersonal psychology after meeting with Libowitz this past summer, he believes that students could benefit from the practices they will learn in the tutorial.

“I just thought it was amazingly wonderful,” Henckell said. “I just sailed through the rest of the summer.”

Libowitz moved to Sarasota in 1999 with the hope of partnering with local organizations involved in peacemaking and the Middle East. Although those projects did not come to fruition, Libowitz decided to stay in Sarasota and reach out to local college students.

A former social worker, Libowitz first became interested in transpersonal therapy after moving to California in 1971 following his graduation from the University of Chicago where he earned a master’s degree in social work. Libowitz is not currently licensed to practice social work in Florida.

It was during his time in California that Libowitz founded the Family Harmony Institute. Libowitz said that when he established the institute in 1988 his mission was to provide a framework that families could use to improve their relationships and wellbeing. No records could be found of filings or activities undertaken by the institute while Libowitz was in California.

Although Libowitz said that the Family Harmony Institute is occasionally active, the Florida Division of Corporations has designated the non-profit and for-profit arms of the institute as inactive since 2003 for failure to file an annual report with the division.

“I like to consider myself a visionary,” Libowitz said. “What will help? What’s the next step in our evolutionary process? Social services and having a more holistic approach will be essential.”

Libowitz is now looking for funding for his two most recent ventures, the

Holistic Lifestyles Institute and Bridges to the Holy Land, which will provide aid and resources to peacemakers in the Middle East.

Financial problems have also been a central theme of Libowitz’s tenure at

New College.

In 2003, Libowitz partnered with a group of New College students to lead a one-day workshop, free of cost, on conscientious peacemaking. Nine years later, in the Fall of 2012, Libowitz returned to campus and with the help of students, organized a series of transpersonal psychology workshops throughout the year.

Michael Gonzalez (‘09) was the primary organizer and funding manager for the workshops held during Spring 2013.

“I was already interested in the topic,” Gonzalez said. “I thought it was cool how it mixed psychology and holistic practices.”

Over the course of the 2012-2013 school year, various students affiliated with the psychosynthesis workshops, including Gonzalez, applied to the speaker fund managed by the Counsel of Academic Affairs (CAA) for allocations ranging from $400-$1,000 per allocation session. However, the majority of their applications were denied due to insufficient information on the applications.

Libowitz received a speaker fee of about $150-$200 per workshop which were held about once every seven weeks. The rest of the funds, Gonzalez said, were used for advertising the workshops and printing promotional materials.

As the Spring 2013 semester wore on, Libowitz asked Gonzalez to increase the amount of funding requested to about $800-$1000 per allocation session.

Thesis-student and Vice President for Academic Affairs Erin Kent said that the CAA rejected most of the requests filed by the psychosynthesis workshop organizers due to insufficient data on the applications and apprehensions surrounding how the allocation was going to be used.

“The funding requests kept increasing,” Kent said. “The reason given in the application was the increased cost of Xeroxing and, one application had included, that Mark’s practice had taken a dive recently and that he wanted more compensation for his time.”

After these allocation requests, the CAA began to inquire into the use of funds by Libowtiz and the workshop.

Thesis-student and CAA secretary Timothy Duff said that the group first began to suspect possible financial impropriety after reviewing all of the allocation applications Gonzalez had filed.

“We received an application from psychosynthesis workshop that was essentially identical to all of the applications that we had received from them in the past and a lot of the [CAA] members voiced their displeasure about that,” Duff said.

The CAA audited the workshop and sifted through a box full of receipts all of which were for purchases for photocopies made by Libowitz.

“There were a lot of receipts and they seemed to be roughly comparable to the amount being requested for the events,” Duff continued. “That made us suspicious.”

When the CAA completed their audit, the group found that the total costs documented by the receipts were comparable to the amount of funding requested for workshop events.

“We realized, well the students aren’t buying these things and getting reimbursed for the sake of providing the event,” Duff said. “These are his personal printing cost which he is having students get money for. What he’s doing is technically advertising his own practice.”

The CAA also determined that the workshop did not meet the standard for academic relevance needed to qualify for receiving allocations from the speaker fund.

“We decided that this was an abuse of the speaker fund,” Duff said. “When you invite a speaker to provide honorarium they should be distinguished speakers.”

Following the inquiries made by the CAA, the group unanimously rejected a request for $800 in funding made by the organizers of the workshop in May of 2013.

Gonzalez said that the CAA had been skeptical about the workshop since he initially began asking for funds.

“They were never open to it, they really didn’t take us very seriously,” Gonzalez said.

Although “Living Well and Living Together” tutorial initially received about 60 inquiries from interested students, Henckell acknowledged that some students and faculty remain skeptical about the curriculum.

“There is some concern on the part of the faculty as to whether the course is academically rigorous,” Henckell said. “I personally vouch for the academic rigor of the course.”

Prior to his dismissal, students and members of the administration were growing apprehensive that Libowitz was looking to insinuate himself in New College community.

According to the website for Holistic Lifestyles Institute, Libowitz wanted to eventually expand his on-campus offerings and reach nearly 50 percent of the student population through workshops and classes.

In his statement, Miles said that Libowitz’s plans for expanding his on-campus presence were never authorized or supported by the school.

Libowitz’s resume has also raised some eyebrows amongst students and faculty.

After the 2003 workshops, Libowitz lived in Israel for 14 months. Libowitz said that he was involved in the Middle East peacemaking process from 2003 until 2005 while also teaching meditation at Olam Quatan, an interfaith bookstore in Jerusalem.

“I connected with different peacemaking groups,” Libowitz explained.

However, during his time in the Middle East, Libowitz was not affiliated with any Non-governmental organization (NGO) or diplomatic organization.

Some faculty members have voiced their concern that the tutorial does not meet the standards of academic rigorousness that must be met by a for-credit course and that it does not meet the criteria for a for-credit internship.

Henckell said that, although students will not receive direct vocational training or career experience from the tutorial, they will learn skills, which will benefit both the student and the New College community.

“I think that there is a strong case to be made that it is an internship,” Henckell said. “It is an internship in the sense that students will get hands on experience with community building. We want them to use their new found skills in relationship building and go into the community and do things.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 4, a divisional meeting for the Natural Science faculty was convened to vote on whether Libowitz was qualified to lead a for-credit tutorial. The division decided that Libowitz could remain a co-instructor for the tutorial.

After the meeting, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of Faculty Suzanne E. Sherman said in an email that voting in favor of the tutorial was a “reasonable decision” and that the success of the tutorial would be evaluated before it would be offered again.

New College policy states that the academic sponsor of a for-credit tutorial can enlist the teaching services of non-faculty instructors if this person has experience relevant to the content of the tutorial.

“I thought it was my right to call on anybody in the community to help me teach my course,” Henckell said. “I think that Mark is imminently qualified.”

The tutorial was not receiving any funding from the school and neither Libowitz was not being compensated for his time.

Additionally, there has been concern that the tutorial places an undue financial pressure on students. Although a limited number of copies of the primary text for the tutorial, “What We May Be: Techniques for Psychological and Spiritual Growth Through Psychosynthesis” by Piero Ferrucci, are available through Amazon, Henckell and Libowitz were also providing photocopied versions of the book to their students for $9.00 per copy. Henckell said that because the book is currently out-of-print, providing students with photocopies was the best possible option.

“We were quick-stepping to make sure that 60 copies of the book were available for students to acquire,” Henckell said. “We are making the textbook available to the students at cost.”

Before Libowitz was dismissed, the co-instructors of the tutorial were consulting with a lawyer to determine if they will be required to pay the publisher Tacher, a division of Penguin Publishing, a royalty fee.

Under federal law, the reproduction of an out-of-print text through photocopying is a copyright violation, which can carry fines and fees.

Thesis-student and former Catalyst editor Corey Rodda participated in workshops led by Libowitz in the Spring of 2012. Rodda said that her experiences with Libowitz were positive, at first.

“I felt like it was an outlet for me to be creative and meditate and get in touch with myself,” Rodda said. “But then it started becoming strange.” Rodda explained that Libowitz would ask the students to purchase artwork and knick-knacks from him during the workshops and events.

“He was asking us to buy things and said if we didn’t do this we wouldn’t grow as a person,” Rodda added. “He would always talk about money and how he needed money.”

Prior to his removal from the tutorial, both Libowitz and Henckell said that they had been exploring alternative funding routes, including hosting a fund-drive and accepting donations from supporters of transpersonal psychology, to fund the course and other events. Libowitz hoped that New College would eventually provide the tutorial with some monetary allocation so that he could dedicate more time to the tutorial and the school’s community.

“People have this thing about money where they would get turned off when I talked about needing to get funds,” Libowitz said. “You better learn how to deal with money as a very positive energy that can be used for

In his statement, Provost Miles said that the financial pressure being placed upon students by Libowitz was a primary reason for his removal as co-instructor. Some students, like Rodda, were skeptical about the value of Libowitz’s approach.

“I would be very weary of Mark,” Rodda said. “I think there is a reason that he is hanging out on a college campus where there are people who are very willing to experiment and participate in these things and where there is a lot of soul searching going on.”

According to a statement released by the Provost, plans are currently being made to either find a replacement instructor or to offer the currently enrolled students an alternative course. These plans should be in place within the next two weeks.

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