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New communications chief at New College of Florida is out after just 2 months

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Posted at 8:46 AM, Oct 03, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. — Just two months after he was hired as part of the state’s controversial overhaul at New College of Florida, the school’s communications chief says he was fired.

Ryan Terry recently spoke only to Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone about why he thinks the public has reason to worry about the school’s future.

“I am probably the shortest-run vice president at a state university,” Ryan Terry told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone on Monday.

Just two months after he was hired to take over communications for New College of Florida, Terry said he was terminated Monday morning after he got a call from the school’s legal and human resources staff.

“It really came as a huge surprise,” he said.

Terry, who said he was recruited to the school’s executive team after a successful run with the communication unit at the Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said he’s not sure why he was terminated but described a recent conversation he had with New College’s Interim President Richard Corcoran.

“I was told I was not hired to be concerned with school morale, and I was told I was not hired to set the strategy for the school. I was hired to go toe to toe with the media, and I was hired to, quote, call them out for their lies,” he told LaGrone.

Terry’s sudden departure is just the latest breakup at a campus that has become widely known for its controversial splits and rebuilds.

In January, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed six new conservative members to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Since then, the board fired its previous president, eliminated the school’s diversity office, and started abolishing its gender studies program, and dozens of professors have left following what critics have described as a hostile state over to transform the publicly funded college into a politically motivated conservative think tank.

In addition, changes at the small liberal arts school have resulted in protests and, this summer, inspired a lawsuit by some former faculty and students accusing the state and school leadership of censoring free speech on campus.

Interim President Corcoran, a former Republican speaker of the house and strong political ally of Governor DeSantis, recently sat down with us and denied claims the school’s direction is conservatively driven or politically motivated.

“There is no college that will be more free speech,” he told us last month, adding that the liberal arts college will be “dead center” politically.

Terry said that sentiment is not what he witnessed while working on the inside.

“The experience at the school says something entirely different. It really is an attack on academic freedom and attack on higher education,” he said. “It feels like if you don't believe what the administration believes wholeheartedly and the administration's vision, if you differ in any way, then you're not welcome,” he said.

When asked how he would respond to critics who might view him as a disgruntled former employee, Terry responded, “I was hired because I was seen as an expert in my field,” he said.

Terry’s ousting came as a surprise to some faculty leaders on campus.

“This is stunning news to me,” said Dr. Amy Reid, New College’s only faculty member currently serving on the school’s Board of Trustees. Reid has also been an outspoken critic of the state’s takeover.

“It is not good news for the administration that they have needed to fire their own communications director after such a short amount of time,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how they spin this,” Reid added.

After contacting the school Monday morning, a member of New College’s communications staff emailed LaGrone just before 5 p.m. Monday, confirming that Terry was no longer an employee but that they “cannot discuss personnel matters.”

As for the future of New College, Terry has a warning.

“I think the future is very shaky,” he said. “I get very scared when anybody wants to exert that much control over a public institution,” he said.

On Tuesday, New College’s Board of Trustees will be selecting the school’s permanent president. Richard Corcoran is on the shortlist and widely seen as a frontrunner.

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