In a climate of uncertainty, students and faculty at New College of Florida (NCF) have been grappling with the future of the Gender Studies Program after a motion by Trustee Christopher Rufo began the process of terminating the program as a whole. The proposal was approved by seven trustees and passed at the Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting on Aug. 10, after criticism by Student Trustee and New College Student Alliance (NCSA) Co-President Grace Keenan and Faculty Trustee and Faculty Co-Chair Professor of French Language and Literature Amy Reid. An amendment was proposed by Keenan calling for board members to prepare their individual documents and thoughts to debate the best course of action regarding the Gender Studies Program. This was opposed by Rufo, who described it as an attempt to slow down and delay the program’s removal.
“It’s just a simple yes or no question,” Rufo said.
Rufo’s motion was not listed on the BOT meeting agenda beforehand, raising concerns from Keenan and Reid that there was a violation of the Sunshine Law, as students, faculty and attendees of the meeting were not given adequate time to prepare public comments on the topic. Rufo said that the “behavior” of these trustees should not be “rewarded with good will” and strongly encouraged his colleagues to reject Keenan’s amendment to the motion. The amendment was not accepted.
Rationales from the trustees for removing Gender Studies as a New College Area of Concentration (AOC) were varied. Rufo has stated on his blog that his argument for terminating the program is that public universities must align with taxpayer expectations, and lawmakers have the authority and obligation to reform or end programs that don’t meet these expectations. He argues that professors have First Amendment rights, but not an unlimited state subsidy for controversial speech, such as “gender pseudoscience.” He claims past instances show that academic departments veering into ideological activism have been terminated wisely, such as the criminology department at University of California (UC) Berkeley and the Urban Education Institute (UEI) at the University of Chicago. His final reason states that every university must align with its mission, and New College of Florida’s mission is to “restore classical liberal education” and “pursue transcendent truth.” He writes that gender studies and queer theory, with their postmodern and anti-normative perspectives, are incompatible with this mission, making them optional rather than standard disciplines.
“As opposed to women’s studies, the term “gender” is too empirically and conceptually fluid and uncertain to sustain an interdisciplinary formation as something independent,” Trustee Mark Bauerlein commented.
Trustee Sarah Mackie questioned whether the motion was to discontinue Gender Studies as an AOC while still maintaining courses in the subject that students can take, or eliminate the subject as a whole.
“It’s a detail we can work out. The motion is to direct the president’s staff to make the proper steps to terminate the Gender Studies Program, beginning with the 2024 enrollees,” Rufo responded.
Isabel Reyes, a third year Psychology and Creative Writing AOC, took a Women’s Studies course in high school, sparking an interest in gender studies that she wanted to further pursue. “My first year at NCF, I wasn’t sure I wanted Gender Studies as an AOC but I started taking gender studies-related courses and it just turned into something I had to keep exploring,” Reyes told the Catalyst.
“What has certain people attacking gender studies is how it examines and explores gender, not just as an identity but an idea—a concept,” Reyes continued. “I think these ideas of gender as a concept and gender identity are thrown around a lot by people who don’t fully understand it and judge it and discredit it, but if you look into it, read the history and theories surrounding it you can see, if you hadn’t already, that these are not just made up ideas with nothing to back them.”
Reyes previously described herself as a Creative Writing and Gender Studies AOC; now she explains that she typically says she’s concentrating in Psychology and Creative Writing, although she noted she would like to continue studying the topic. “Gender studies as an AOC is under attack but I think these topics are deeply woven into so many other subjects that we learn about and experience, and we should be able to explore and think deeply about these things,” Reyes said.
Reyes has no current plans to transfer, though she commented that she empathizes with other gender studies students who have transferred or are planning to do so. “I also think it’s important to think about who all these changes really impact on a personal level, and while I might be able to still be somewhat comfortable at NCF as a cisgender woman, that is probably not the case for everyone,” she said.
Reid, who also serves as Director of Gender Studies, shed light on the current state of the program and its potential challenges moving forward in an interview with the Catalyst.
“Gender Studies was started back in 1995 by a group of faculty who wanted to support student interest in the field,” Reid said. “We still have strong support among the faculty. This fall, we have two cross-listed courses being offered and another 11 gender studies-eligible classes. Students should know that there are faculty here to support them.”
For many years, Gender Studies has been a significant field of interest for students at NCF. According to Reid, more than 40 students completed the offered Introduction to Gender Studies course in the Fall ‘22-Spring ‘23 academic year. However, the recent departure of Assistant Professor of Gender Studies Nick Clarkson has cast doubt on the program’s future, and the establishment of an Introduction to Gender Studies class for the upcoming academic year remains uncertain.
The status of students planning to graduate with a concentration in Gender Studies is unclear.
Some have transferred out, leaving questions about how many students remain committed to the program. “But I’m working with students, some hoping to graduate in 2025, to ensure they can fulfill program requirements,” Reid said.
Reid commented that it was disappointing to see the BOT vote to ‘abolish’ the Gender Studies program with no substantive discussion and no recognition of what it has contributed to the campus or the place of Women’s and Gender Studies in the American Liberal Arts.
Reid encourages interested individuals to attend the Feminist Friday series that is set to continue this academic year, as well as to reach out to her with ideas for the programming. Feminist Fridays are brown-bag gatherings held at noon in the ACE Lounge, announced in advance and usually occurring two or three times each month.
“I want to emphasize that ideas can’t be banned or abolished,” Reid stated. “Students need to be able to pursue their search for knowledge and truth, and they should know that faculty want to support them.”