Florida Atlantic University professor Dr. Marshall DeRosa is being harassed over his politically incorrect Southern scholarship and prison outreach efforts as part of the left’s perpetual attacks on the Koch brothers.
By S. T. Patrick
Since March, Dr. Marshall DeRosa has been under fire from journalists and activists across Florida and nationwide. The charges against DeRosa, a professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for 28 years, range from the innocuously political (“Koch-funded”) to the serious and potentially career-threatening (“white supremacist”).
The criticism of DeRosa had been a niche story until the left-leaning magazine The Nation published a hit piece on March 21, “How Charles Koch is Helping Neo-Confederates Teach College Students.” Since then, DeRosa has been the target of protests and harassment from across the FAU campus and beyond. Student activists, primarily from the FAU Democratic Socialists and FAU Student Power groups, have made DeRosa’s classes at FAU difficult endeavors. Some students have even gone so far as to post accusatory flyers inside DeRosa’s classrooms.
The attacks on DeRosa center on his ties to what critics are calling “white nationalist” and “neo-Confederate” groups such as the League of the South Institute (LSI), which, according to its own advertisement, is the “educational arm of the Mary Noel Kershaw Foundation.”
In an email exchange with this writer, DeRosa described the end of his tenure with the LSI. “My disengagement from the League of the South was a gradual process,” DeRosa wrote. “I don’t have a specific date, but I believe it began in the late 1990s. As an academic I was able and willing to give presentations about my scholarship. Professor Forrest McDonald [world-renowned historian at the University of Alabama] invited me to the first organizational meeting at the University of Alabama. The purpose was to provide an academic and research forum for scholars. It did not and was not intended to be engaged in politics.”
DeRosa is currently associated with the Abbeville Institute, an organization formed “to critically explore what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition.” Abbeville is named after the birthplace of former Sen. and Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
What is confusing are the duplicitous motives of the protestors, as well as organizations such as Campus Reform and Media Matters for America. A majority of the headlines and flyers use the name “Koch” more prominently than they use “DeRosa.” Therefore, it can be assumed that DeRosa is just the target du jour for the left’s perpetual attacks on Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires known for donating to Republican political causes. One of those causes, the Charles Koch Foundation’s education initiatives, allows FAU to fund the civics classes DeRosa teaches at the South Bay Correctional Facility (SBCF), a private prison operated by GEO Group, Inc.
DeRosa teaches approximately 130 students at SBCF. Almost 70% of his students are black. The remaining 30% are equally white and Hispanic. Sources within SBCF tell this writer that the students are “real fans” of both DeRosa and his classes. What he is teaching all of the South Bay students is uniform; he teaches about individual rights, duties, and dignity. In a reaction that may surprise his harshest critics, the classes seem to be affecting the black students most.
DeRosa told “WashingtonExaminer.com,” “(The black students are) coming to the realization that the government has been their enemy.”
These dictums must be surprising to an educational structure and prison-industrial complex that demands obedience to an authority, a reliance on government programs, and a blind faith in law. Yet they are ideals that DeRosa believes will make the prisoners valuable members of their communities and families after their time is served.
When asked why these classes were important to him, DeRosa responded with a quote from Matthew 25:36, “. . . I was in prison, and you came to me.”
The DeRosa story is really a crossroads of ongoing conflicts that have plagued Florida for decades. Florida is a state that is very Southern in culture, yet it attempts to promote itself as an impartial, fully modernized, coastal vacation destination. It is a state that has over 154,000 residents in jails or prisons. The state is also slowly moving toward prison privatization. That move had previously caused conflict on the FAU campus when in 2013 students protested over the GEO Group’s purchasing of the naming rights to the football stadium. DeRosa is simply caught in the current wave of old conflicts.
For DeRosa, however, the attacks and harassment have been very personal. In communication with this writer, as well as in reports culled from SBCF sources, DeRosa has been a polite intellectual with an intense devotion to both his students and his material. Unfortunately for DeRosa and his colleagues, he is also caught up in a schism that the historical community has yet to resolve adequately.
There has to be a way for scholars interested in southern or Confederate history to study it with impartiality and without the snap judgments that cause many to label them as “white supremacists” or “white nationalists” solely due to their interest and lack of volatile scorn. They should not have to reflexively despise the South or hate all of its institutions and principles to study it critically.
DeRosa is a scholar with an interest in the Confederacy, and he is an author of a book on the Confederate Constitution of 1861. He has done what many do in the field of history—he has associated with other historians with similar interests. That is professional; it is neither illegal nor immoral. It isn’t even a bad decision. It is the norm in any scholarly field.
DeRosa, to date, has been given the tacit support of an FAU administration that in 2016 fired James Tracy, the professor who contributed to a book on the Sandy Hook school shooting claiming he had some doubts about the official story surrounding the event. If FAU is an educational institution that seriously believes in the university being a forum for the marketplace of ideas, DeRosa will stay at FAU and his students at SBCF will continue to learn his valuable lessons.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected].