New College of Florida fired Ryan Terry, the university’s vice president of communications and marketing. The move came a day before New College trustees are expected to hire interim President Richard Corcoran on a permanent basis.
Terry only joined the university’s administration in July. But during a few months on the job, Terry said the worst criticisms about a hostile takeover at the school were confirmed. His termination took place days after a meeting with Corcoran that left him concerned the college president courts fights with the media and eschews efforts to restore a sense of community.
“When I was talking about unity on campus and saying we need to repair relationships in the organization with positive stories shared from campus, I was told, ‘I don’t care about unity on campus,’” Terry said.
New College officials confirmed Terry’s exit and stressed the university official held his position for a limited amount of time.
“Ryan Terry is no longer employed at New College,” a statement from the college reads. “While we cannot comment on personnel matters, I can assure you that Ryan was an at-will employee, serving under the administration’s supervision, as stated in NCF Regulation 3-4011. An employee who did not work out during the first 60 days in their new role is not uncommon. New College continues to make rapid progress toward restoring its stature among America’s best liberal arts institutions.”
The personnel move takes place after months of scrutiny about a remaking of the college, ever since Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed several new trustees who promptly fired the prior university president. The board quickly named Corcoran as interim president, and will take up a permanent contract at a trustee meeting on Tuesday.
At the university, officials within administration suggested tension with Terry about the role of a communications leader. The changes at New College have attracted national attention as DeSantis runs for President. Meanwhile, a third of professors at the school have left, as have many students. This left the public liberal arts college in need of someone handling attention from national news outlets from the New York Times to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Terry said he saw first-hand at New College a sense of tension on campus and a growing hostility within the broader community. But by his account, he tried to focus on moving past that. He led a hurricane preparation guide on campus, and pushed for events he believed would generate positive press, from pumpkin-carving contests to creating a mural on a modular unit to replace student-created murals being painted over in a campus beautification.
“These would create organic community stories and positive press,” Terry said.
But he was called into Corcoran’s office last week, where he said the President has a different communications strategy in mind.
“He said ‘I need a comms,’ and that I didn’t need to be concerned about school morale,” Terry said. “He told me he didn’t hire me for cute marketing campaigns, and it was not my job to develop ideas. He said ‘I hired you to go toe-to-toe with the media like DeSantis does’ and that ‘Chris Rufo shouldn’t be doing your job.’”
Rufo, one of DeSantis’ appointments to the board of trustees, has become one of the nation’s top critics of liberals in higher education. He has touted on a national stage moves like abolishing gender studies. “They wanted politics and now they are getting politics,” Rufo told Fox News in an August prime time segment.
Terry said the wanted to make communications decisions that “don’t eliminate and piss off people.”
“That’s what I set out to do,” Terry said. “It wasn’t welcomed.”
He also questions outreach decisions. For example, while New College is designated as the state honors college by statute, Terry said the plan for student recruitment in the next year will include trying to attract “weird home-schoolers and private Christian school kids.”
“A lot of this isn’t out there yet but they are developing promotional material for that purpose,” Terry said.
While Terry has some personal stake in the decision, he even questions the administration’s decision to fire him a day before the trustee vote on Corcoran’s future. Adding to the slight, terry said he was fired while he was on vacation. He received a call by phone Monday from Chief Human Resources Officer Erika Worthy, Vice President of Legal Affairs David Brickhouse and General Counsel Bill Galvano.
Terry said his own politics lean center-right. He most recently served as the public information officer in the Florida Department of Health’s Hillsborough County office during DeSantis’ tenure as Governor. He also has taught part-time the last eight years at the University of Tampa.
Of course, going public with criticisms of an employee brings immediate professional risk, especially for a communications professional. But he said he can’t stay quiet about what appears to be happening at New College.
“I shouldn’t have to live in a world where I am afraid to spotlight what is truly an attack on academic freedom and higher education,” he said.