At UF, someone used “critic” and “race” in a sentence. Trouble ensued.

Chris Busey’s page on the University of Florida website states that he is an associate professor at the College of Education, “where he primarily teaches courses for the Critical Studies in Race, Ethnicity and Culture specialization.”

But according to a grievance he filed this week through the faculty union, the wording of that job description has been called into question. The reason: the fear on the part of senior UF administrators that the nearby words “critic” and “race” might offend the Florida legislature. The specialization, which had been approved by the College of Education, was still awaiting approval from the university.

Busey alleges in the complaint that he was threatened with discipline if he used the “critical race” in the design of his program and program, an apparent reference to the “critical race theory”. The Theory Discussion, an academic setting examining the impact of America’s racial history, was banned earlier this year in Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes in Florida after some parents complained and that Governor Ron DeSantis brought up the issue as a frequent topic of discussion.

Chris Busey, a faculty member at the College of Education at the University of Florida, filed a union grievance expressing concerns about academic freedom. [ University of Florida ]

The document indicates that pressures have increased since the passage this year of the House Bill 233, which requires the state’s public colleges and universities to measure the level of “intellectual diversity” on their campuses through surveys.

He also says the UF has held race meetings in light of new legislation aimed at preventing teachings about race that might make students uncomfortable. Two bills, HB 57 in the House and SB 242 in the Senate, were introduced ahead of the legislative session which begins on January 11.

In a statement, the university said the grievances were confidential and it could not comment. But, in response to a copy of the grievance sent by the Tampa Bay weather, he said that “the documents you have provided contain a number of inaccuracies, and we will address them through the appropriate processes.” The university said it could not clarify what was incorrect.

Paul Ortiz, president of the faculty union, said the grievance was based on detailed notes from several people who attended recent meetings with university officials and that he believes they are accurate.

The complaint says that in a meeting in late September between Associate Rector Chris Hass and faculty and administrators at the College of Education, faculty were warned to stay away from programs that touch on race or gender. ‘Against racism.

Chris Hass, Vice-Rector for Academic and Faculty Affairs
Chris Hass, Vice-Rector for Academic and Faculty Affairs [ University of Florida ]

According to Busey’s notes from the meeting, Hass said the provost’s office had been informed that the College of Education was viewed favorably by the state and that it “would not raise any issues that could jeopardize this relationship.” The specific combination of the words “critical” and “race” was a problem.

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The complaint also alleges that Hass told them that neither UF President Kent Fuchs nor UF Provost Marshal Joseph Glover would be willing to risk their jobs if the college decided to “look into the matter.” anti-black racism and the critical race program “. He quoted Hass as saying that Fuchs reports to the UF board of directors and that there had previously been threats to replace university presidents in other public schools.

Richard Corcoran, the state education commissioner whose name was shortlisted as Florida State University’s presidential candidate, has been proposed as a possible replacement, according to meeting notes.

Faculty members were told that students had “militarized the programs” by sending them to state lawmakers and that all courses with the word “race” in the title were under review, according to the grievance.

He said college was informed that he had three options: change the name of the concentration by deleting the word “critical”; wait until spring before putting concentration forward or not putting concentration or classes forward at all.

Busey asked at the meeting why the word “critical” had become so important and referred to the fact that students studying this concentration had been hired at the University of California at Berkeley.

“If we take out the word ‘critical’, it’ll just be a new word later,” his notes say. “The establishments ahead of us in the ranking have these programs. “

Hass responded that the governor didn’t care about California, according to the grievance account.

A faculty member asked how the college is supposed to attract and retain people of color to the faculty. Another asked about the focus on these areas in response to nationwide outrage over the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.

According to the grievance, Hass responded that while diversity and inclusion have been at the center of administration at every meeting over the past year, this is no longer the case.

Busey’s notes indicate that Hass said the administration does not appreciate the work.

“I don’t know how I can look at you and say you shouldn’t be looking for another job,” Hass said, according to Busey’s notes.

He also alleges that at a meeting held a few weeks later by the Dean of the College of Education, Glenn Good, professors were informed that the graduate school “would not approve anything with the word ‘critical’ in the title.” . The concentration titled “Critical Study of Race, Ethnicity and Culture in Education” should be amended. The dean said Glover would support a focus that said “race studies” as long as “critic” goes, according to the grievance.

Dean Glenn Good College of Education
Dean Glenn Good College of Education [ University of Florida ]

“We’re able to get that through if we change the language,” Good said, according to Busey’s notes. “We don’t want flashing red lights giving them red meat. “

The complaint alleges that following the faculty meeting, Ester de Jong, director of the School of Teaching and Learning and chair of the Busey department, advised Busey to change the title of the concentration. He says she told him that the administration would not look at the names of the courses and that he could essentially continue teaching as he had been.

During a meeting two weeks later between the professors and Dean Good, the dean said Hass could have “gotten ahead of himself” and things weren’t so bad, according to the grievance.

He quotes Good as saying that Glover, the provost, told him that the new bill discouraging uncomfortable class discussions about race might not pass and the focus had shifted to parental rights, so don’t. not worry too much about it yet. However, the words “critic” and “race” in close proximity to each other were prohibited.

“We don’t want to set Tallahassee on fire,” Good said at the college, according to Busey’s notes. “Everything else has to be done and the leadership is behind our work if we just make these minor adjustments to our program titles. “

In a statement posted to the College of Education website on Nov. 5, Good addressed growing concerns about academic freedom.

“In our College of Education, we teach students to ask compelling questions and create meaningful solutions that improve the education of all students,” wrote the dean. “We support the work of our teachers to advance education, both in and outside the classroom. We look forward to working with college and university stakeholders to find solutions that uphold academic freedom and continue to advance issues of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.

The college, he wrote, had taken several steps to promote diversity, equity and inclusion through its work and would continue to do so.

In the grievance, the union calls on the university to “cease and desist from requiring professors under threat of discipline to eliminate and / or launder a widely accepted area of ​​study related to the critical theory of the race of the program “.

He further states that “these intrusions into curriculum matters represent a flagrant and unprecedented violation of academic freedom … and threaten to undermine faculty autonomy and tarnish the reputation of the University of Florida.”

Busey, who is black and a former first-generation UF student, said in a statement he was discouraged from taking the route of filing a grievance.

“I was recruited from the university to engage in scholarship, teaching and service for the betterment of our university, local and national communities,” he said. “Our collective efforts and our freedom of speech should never be censored, but rather cherished as a key tenet of this university that should serve as a beacon for the state of Florida and the nation.”

Ortiz, the president of the faculty union, said the question underscores the organization’s call for an independent investigation into influences external to the university.

Last week, in response to yet another academic freedom controversy, Fuchs sent an email to the academic community stating that UF was free from undue influence. He was referring to the university’s recent ruling banning three professors from testifying against the state in a lawsuit over Florida’s new voting restrictions, a move that sparked widespread condemnation and another court challenge. .

Attempts to target critical race theory have been particularly problematic, Ortiz said.

“They know that critical race theory is taught in law schools,” he said. “But the real goal is to prevent us from looking at the foundations of racism in society. They want us to think that the foundations of Jim Crow, slavery, segregation were based on individuals, not institutions.

Ortiz, a history professor at UF, is the author of a book that has caught the attention of Texas lawmakers trying to suppress critical race theory. He said many academics targeted by the UF are black and are told to dilute what they do.

The outlook for the past two months is troubling, Ortiz said. “We have to become a public institution again.

This story is developing and will be updated.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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