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A photo illustration combining a photo of Bruce Gilley, the cover of his book The Case for Colonialism, and a photo of the New College of Florida campus.

Bruce Gilley, a Portland State University professor, is heading to the New College of Florida next academic year.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | New College of Florida | New English Review Press | Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post/Getty Images


Nearly seven years ago, the journal Third World Quarterly’s publication of “The Case for Colonialism” caused an uproar among scholars. The piece both defended colonialism’s past and called for its return. Critics called it shoddy, offensive work.

The essay, by Portland State University’s Bruce Gilley, advocated for “governments and peoples in developing countries to replicate as far as possible the colonial governance of their pasts.” He wrote that “the ‘good governance’ agenda, which contains too many assumptions about the self-governing capacity of poor countries, should be replaced with the ‘colonial governance’ agenda.”

A second way to “reclaim colonialism,” Gilley wrote, “is to recolonize some regions. Western countries should be encouraged to hold power in specific governance areas (public finances, say, or criminal justice) in order to jump-start enduring reforms in weak states.” Thirdly, he added, “it may be possible to build new Western colonies from scratch.” He did say colonialism could return “only with the consent of the colonized.”

Fifteen members of Third World Quarterly’s editorial board resigned and called for retracting the piece, saying it had been rejected by three peer reviewers before being published anyway as a “Viewpoints” essay.

The article was published in September 2017. By the end of that month, Gilley, a politics and global affairs professor, was himself calling for its retraction. “I regret the pain and anger that it has caused for many people,” he said in a statement. “I hope that this action will allow a more civil and caring discussion on this important issue to take place.” The journal removed the essay from its website, citing threats of violence to its then editor.

But people can still read it online. The conservative National Association of Scholars republished the piece in its journal in 2018, and Gilley reversed course and defended it in another essay called “How the Hate Mob Tried to Silence Me.” This past November, he published a book, again titled The Case for Colonialism, answering his critics and expanding on his claims.

So Gilley clearly hasn’t changed his tune. “Decolonization has been the greatest human rights disaster ever,” he told Inside Higher Ed this week. He said he’s heard support for his arguments from people of color who live in countries that were once European colonies.

“They’re sick and tired of having Black activists in America or white film studies professors telling them what they’re supposed to think about their own histories,” Gilley said.

He’s also been posting frequently on X. On that social media platform, just since Feb. 1, Gilley has:

  • Called the transgender flag “a symbol of narcissistic sexual reductionism and the mutilation of children,”
  • Said “virtually every indigenous leader in Canada is an identity fraud,”
  • Reposted a video of the Blackwater mercenary company founder Erik Prince calling for putting “the imperial hat back on” to govern “pretty much all of Africa,”
  • Criticized the number of Black members on the Oregon State Board of Education, as Black people make up only a small percentage of the population in the state,
  • Said he’s “looking forward to hearing that the 1619 Project was plagiarized,” and
  • Reposted criticism of an FBI post for using two white women in a stock photo about organized retail theft.

When one X account posted a photo of a Black girl looking at a statue of a Black woman in chains—accompanied by the words “People have the audacity to say, get over it. It was in the past”—Gilley reposted it, commenting, “No. I think Africans should be reminded again and again of the endemic slave empires and slave/human sacrifice cultures that pervaded the continent until European moral revolution and colonial expansion put an end to it. Never forget.”

Gilley’s profile may now rise higher. Last week, New College of Florida, where Republican governor Ron DeSantis’s appointed trustees have been enacting a conservative overhaul, announced it had hired Gilley as a Presidential Scholar in Residence for a one-year stint.

But Gilley could stay longer. “Presidential Scholar in Residence positions are eligible for renewal each year,” college spokesman Nate March told Inside Higher Ed in an email.

“It is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term engagement,” Gilley wrote in an American Conservative essay on his move.

March said Gilley will be paid $135,000 next academic year. Gilley said he’s taking the position while on sabbatical from his tenured position at Portland State. That university said professors on one-year sabbaticals continue receiving 75 percent of their salaries—so Gilley will be paid that as well.

Christopher Rufo, the prominent opponent of critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion whom DeSantis appointed to the New College Board of Trustees last year, touted the hire on X. Gilley “survived the academic mob after publishing ‘The Case for Colonialism,’” Rufo said, and his hiring shows how New College is “expanding the Overton Window and supporting courageous scholars.”

All the President’s Men

Gilley has expressed excitement about joining New College, which he sees as the start of a revolution in public higher education. He told Inside Higher Ed that “it’s a watershed moment when democratic society finally said to the faculty: ‘You’ve mismanaged higher education, you’ve used the excuse of faculty governance and academic freedom to squelch academic freedom, to make massive massively destructive impacts on science and on learning, and your time is up.’”

In January 2023, DeSantis kicked off major changes by appointing six conservatives, including Rufo, to the New College board. Next, the trustees ousted Patricia Okker as president and hired Richard Corcoran, a former Republican lawmaker and DeSantis ally.

Corcoran has now brought in at least four Presidential Scholars in Residence. New College didn’t confirm how many more might be coming next academic year, besides Gilley, but three have previously been announced.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has reported the names of the others. One is Stanley Fish, the John Milton scholar and former New York Times columnist who’s taught at multiple universities and has said academic freedom doesn’t give faculty members the right to try to turn “students into social-justice warriors or anti-social-justice warriors.” He’s making $120,000, according to the State University System of Florida’s online salary database.

Another, Joseph Loconte, a former NPR commentator and current writer for conservative publications who’s been a faculty member at a few colleges, is making $165,000. The third, Andrew Doyle, a comedian who hosts the British show Free Speech Nation and mocks so-called woke viewpoints, isn’t listed in the database.

These new additions have raised questions about the college’s spending, its hiring, the direction of its conservative transformation and whether it’s sidelining faculty members in important decision-making.

Katherine Walstrom, a biochemistry professor and president of New College’s United Faculty of Florida union chapter, told Inside Higher Ed that Presidential Scholars in Residence are teaching few students in classes that, for the most part, don’t count toward major requirements.

“These Presidential Scholars in Residence are a new position, and we’re still trying to figure out what to do with them, because they’re hired outside of the regular faculty decision-making process,” Walstrom said. What they’ll teach and how their classes fit into any academic program aren’t defined.

The union is trying to make them part of its bargaining unit, Walstrom said, because “right now, there are no rules over what they do.” New College didn’t answer questions this week about what Gilley’s teaching load or other responsibilities will be. In an emailed response Thursday to follow-up questions after speaking with Inside Higher Ed earlier this week, Gilley wrote that he’ll “be engaging in various scholarly activities at NCF including seminars and program development.”

Amy Reid, chair of the New College faculty and director of its gender studies program—which the board has voted to disband—said, “Our administration, or President Corcoran, is entitled to hire who he wants as a Presidential Scholar without any consultation or approval from the faculty. But I am concerned about the tenor of Dr. Gilley’s recent comments on social media that make me question whether he is more interested in cultural wars or education. Our administration should be focused on education.

“There has been no serious consultation with faculty about any of the Presidential Scholar nominations,” Reid said.

New College declined to provide Inside Higher Ed a requested interview with a university official. In an email, March wrote, “Presidential Scholars are appointed by President Corcoran, with active involvement from the Board of Trustees. The president also seeks input from various stakeholders when evaluating candidates for this prestigious role.” March didn’t mention whether current faculty members are among those stakeholders.

Why did New College’s president choose Gilley? Public records shared by the nonprofit American Oversight might offer a clue. In April 2023, Corcoran received an email bringing Gilley to his attention from Bob Allen, a 1978 New College graduate and former board member who has previously taken credit for bringing DeSantis’s attention to the institution. “Has anyone mentioned Bruce Gilley, MA Oxford, PhD Princeton, teaches at Portland State to you, as a potential prof?” Allen asked Corcoran.

Corcoran responded, the same day, “Haven’t heard about Bruce Gilley.”

Allen told Inside Higher Ed that he doesn’t recall how many times he suggested hiring Gilley or whether it was just once. He said he also reached out to Gilley himself about coming to New College.

“I believe in having a place for people who challenge conventional wisdom, as long as they’re smart and they’re well-founded,” Allen said. “And the critiques that I read of Gilley seemed superficial and ideological. It’s not necessarily evil to have an opinion that is countercultural.”

Gilley, when asked how he came to work at New College, told Inside Higher Ed he’d been a member of the National Association of Scholars for seven years and recently was a board member for that group. While on that board, he said, he’d been speaking with people at New College.

He said New College official Nathan Allen (no relation to Bob Allen) may have reached out to him first about having a debate at New College about colonialism, and, “as I recall, they couldn’t find anyone to debate me.” There was also discussion of having a National Association of Scholars event on campus, he said, and then talk of his upcoming sabbatical arose, and either Nathan Allen or the president’s office suggested the Presidential Scholar role.

March wrote to Inside Higher Ed that “the opportunity to have Dr. Gilley, one of the foremost scholars in his field, join New College during his sabbatical is a significant asset for our students and college. The question of whether this hire is in response to or despite the controversy surrounding ‘The Case for Colonialism’ is unfounded. Dr. Gilley’s qualifications speak for themselves.”

However the appointment came about, Gilley appears thrilled to be part of the New College project. In his American Conservative essay on his hiring, Gilley called what’s happening at New College a “Reconquista,” using a term for Christian kingdoms’ historical reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims.

“New College is the first Reconquista of a publicly-funded venue,” he wrote. “Since virtually every college and university in other Western countries is what we would call ‘public,’ this has broader significance. Taking back power from the academic mullahs who have turned higher education in the West into little more than a madrassa system of leftist thought depends on storming the public institutions, not fleeing from them. My shield is raised and my visor is lowered.”

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