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Walking the talk: My application to New College’s Freedom Institute



As a Florida citizen, it is a great honor to learn that New College is requesting $2 million in taxpayer dollars to create a “Freedom Institute.” I celebrate with all Floridians that the Freedom Institute will “engage the college’s students, the greater Florida community, and the world to promote freedom of inquiry and champion tolerance of civil discourse among those of opposing views,” according to the minutes of the Board of Trustees’ meeting. As equally grand, the minutes indicate that the Freedom Institute will make sure that its campus becomes a true marketplace of ideas, where students can explore “the great reaches of everything.” Perhaps, most importantly, New College Interim President Richard Corcoran stated that there is an urgent need for the Freedom Institute because “right now there is a tremendous cancel culture that is existing in higher ed.”

This is an open letter of application for one of the two research fellow positions that will “provide the primary scholarly support for the Institute’s efforts.” I have a Ph.D. from Duke University and was ranked in the top 1.5% of faculty in the world in my area of research. Unequivocally, my credentials qualify me for the position.

James Unnever is a retired University of South Florida professor.
James Unnever is a retired University of South Florida professor.

Throughout my 42 years as a professor in higher education, I have championed the core values promoted by the Freedom Institute. I have always believed that the only way to discover the truth is through civil discourse among those with opposing views. Students must be exposed to a plethora of ideas, many of which they may have never heard of or agree with. Campuses are like “idea buffets,” where students can taste the flavors of the world but are ultimately empowered to choose what they most want to consume.

Now, here is the rub. The course I wish to teach will explore how race and racism have shaped the institutional and cultural arrangements within the United States since its founding. The readings will also investigate what it means to be a Black person living in a racially stratified society. Further, they will survey the dynamics of racial discrimination where a recent audit study in Chicago found that employers would rather hire a white male with a felony record than a nonoffender Black man. Students will also learn the arguments for and against affirmative action. In short, the readings will explore whether racism within the United States is systemic.

It is my hope that the Freedom Institute will “walk its talk.” That is, the Freedom Institute will not “cancel” hiring me. Indeed, hiring me will unequivocally show that the Freedom Institute champions the free market of ideas and the civil discourse among those of opposing views. By hiring me, the Freedom Institute will prove that it is not indoctrinating its students. I say let freedom ring throughout New College.

A course on race and racism would also enhance New College’s systemic changes. Previously, students would come to New College because of its diverse academic curriculum designed to expose them to conflicting philosophies, theories and data. This curriculum would cause students to develop lifelong critical analytical skills that would propel them to excellence regardless of their ultimate career. Now, with millions to be invested, New College is encouraging students to enroll because it will offer diverse athletic programs coupled with new athletic facilities. Students will be able to choose whether they want to be a soccer, baseball or basketball player. Of course, my course on race and racism will fit perfectly with New College becoming a “jock” school known for its athletics. The course will explore how racism is systemic within sports (e.g., the “Negro League,” the racial disparity in NFL coaches) and how Black athletes have literally put their life on the line in their efforts to undue its racism (e.g., Jackie Robinson). Students should be inspired by these revolutionary Black athletes.

In sum, whether I am hired will be the perfect test. It will determine whether New College and its proposed Freedom Institute are “the nation’s premiere free speech and free inquiry programs” or whether they are just façades masquerading their true intent of indoctrinating students by canceling opposing views.

James Unnever is a research fellow at the University of Cincinnati and a retired University of South Florida professor. 

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