Dr. Marvin Dunn, history professor emeritus at Florida International University. PHOTO COURTESY OF TWITTER
MIAMI, Fla. – Florida International University professor emeritus and author Dr. Marvin Dunn was a guest speaker in April at Sarasota’s New College of Florida, where he gave a lecture on his Teach the Truth tour, stories about the experiences of Blacks during the Jim Crow era.
Dunn, who’s also a social justice advocate, is a vocal critic of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which limits lessons on systemic racism in public schools.
Two months after Dunn’s lecture, New College United States history professor Erik Wallenberg, who invited Dunn to speak, learned that the school is not planning to renew his contract.
Wallenberg told reporters New College President Richard Cocoran, who was appointed by DeSantis, never gave him an explanation on his abrupt termination.
But critics of DeSantis and his Stop W.O.K.E. Act, and his legislation which banned state funding for Florida public universities and colleges that promote diversity, equity and inclusion programs, suggested Dunn’s appearance is the reason Wallenberg is no longer with New College.
Dunn, 82, is among the plaintiffs who ﬁled a lawsuit in 2022 to stymie the Stop W.O.K.E. Act., and several of Dunn’s books about Black history and racism have been banned in schools by DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature.
Wallenberg couldn’t be reached for comments.
He told New Times he found out he was the only one of around a dozen visiting professors whose offer letter Corcoran opted not to sign.
"This was after all of the visiting appointments were held up by Corcoran, who said he wanted to review them all, which is, as I understand it, outside of the norm of the hiring process for the college," Wallenberg said.
Dunn told the South Florida Times that he doesn’t believe his lecture at the college was the reason for Wallenberg’s termination.
He said Wallengberg has been "very" critical of DeSantis and his appointed board of trustees since the takeover, but noted that other professors who also opposed the takeover had their contracts renewed.
"I don’t think he was ﬁred because of me," Dunn said. "He was against the takeover. But he was the only one of 10 professors whose contract was not renewed."
Dunn said he offered to teach a Black history course at the college for free. "I wrote to the president of the college a lot back in March and asked him to offer a free virtual Black history course, bringing in top scholars from all over the country to appear in this lecture series," Dunn said. "I have yet to get a response."
New College of Florida ofﬁcials didn’t return messages to be interviewed.
The liberal arts college has been in turmoil since DeSantis took over the school in March to shift it in a more conservative direction.
In his ﬁrst move, the governor appointed his conservative members to the college’s board of trustees who subsequently terminated President Patricia Okker.
Corcoran, a former House Speaker and education commissioner, took over as president and then ﬁred the dean and replaced him with former GOP operative Anjali Cadena.
DeSantis’ takeover was met with opposition and protests from students at the college who felt they were caught in the middle of his cultural wars, including the ban on state funding for courses in diversity, equality and inclusion.
Some college professors reportedly feared for their jobs because they were more on the progressivism side of politics.
Dunn said Wallenberg’s termination without an explanation demonstrates retaliation by DeSantis and his board of trustees when people disagree with his policies.
"His ﬁring reflects the mean-spirited people behind DeSantis and his administration at the college," Dunn said. "I’m very offended by that."
Dunn said Wallenberg now works for his nonproﬁt Miami Center for Racial Justice as the new conductor for the Teach the Truth tour at universities and colleges throughout Florida.
The tour also includes taking a busload of people to visit sites where Blacks were brutally attacked and murdered including the Rosewood massacre.
Dunn talked about the cruel tale of the Live Oak, Fla., African American boy who was given a choice by a group of White men: get shot in the head or jump in the Suwannee River.
Dunn said after the White girl’s father found the boy’s letter to her, he and other White men kidnapped him from his home, bound and gagged him, took him to a rural area and placed a gun to his head.
Dunn said the boy’s father helplessly looked on crying and gave his son a hug before he jumped in the river.
Dunn said his lecture at New College of Florida mirrors the ﬁrst one he delivered in 1972.
"It took me back to the beginning of my teaching career at FIU with no restraints on what we taught," Dunn said. "That’s the direct opposite of what is being taught at New College of Florida. That’s why I stayed at FIU for over 30 years."