FAU Presidential Search Could Spur Changes

TALLAHASSEE — Florida university system officials are in talks about changing a regulation that provides guidelines for schools’ selection of new presidents, with the proposed revisions reflecting issues that surfaced during the ongoing search for a new president at Florida Atlantic University.

The university system Board of Governors’ Nomination and Governance Committee on Wednesday discussed a series of proposed changes to the “Presidential Search and Selection” regulation.

Among the proposed additions to the regulation would be a provision that would require search committees at universities to openly discuss any rankings of candidates for presidential jobs.

“Any ranking process must be completed by search committee members, during a meeting, on the record and where contemporaneous discussion of such rankings can take place,” part of the proposed regulation changes said.

University system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues in July ordered a halt to FAU’s presidential search, citing what he called “anomalies” in the process. Rodrigues, for example, took issue with a search firm hired by the university conducting what the chancellor described as a “straw poll” through which committee members anonymously ranked their preferred candidates.

Rodrigues alleged that the survey was a violation of Florida’s open-government Sunshine Law — an opinion that was backed by state Attorney General Ashley Moody. Following an investigation by the Board of Governors’ inspector general, the board required FAU to restart its presidential search.

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Another part of the proposed regulation changes would require that any search firm hired to assist in a university’s presidential search “must confirm, in writing, that it is familiar with and will comply” with Florida’s Sunshine Law.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Board of Governors Chairman Brian Lamb acknowledged that the proposed changes were “particularly driven by our inspector general’s investigation and report” about the FAU search.

But Lamb said the changes also would benefit searches at all state universities seeking new leaders. In addition to FAU’s ongoing search, Florida Polytechnic University is in the beginning stages of searching for a new president.

The proposal was up for discussion by the board Wednesday and is slated to go through the typical regulation development procedure. Under such processes, the board would finalize the proposal after the public has an opportunity to comment on it.

The board’s proposed changes also addressed another issue that arose during FAU’s search last summer. In announcing his decision to suspend the search, Rodrigues also alleged that at least one candidate was asked questions about their sexuality and preferred pronouns. The revisions discussed Wednesday appear designed to stave off similar questions in future searches.

The proposal considered Wednesday would require that “any information solicited from applicants in the vetting process is necessary to conduct a background check, or is germane to the position description.” The restriction would apply to search committees and search firms.

Also reflective of the issues that arose from the investigation into FAU’s presidential search, the proposal would prohibit chairs of universities’ boards of trustees from also serving as the chairs of their schools’ presidential search committees.

FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Brad Levine was involved in some aspects of the FAU search that the investigative report deemed improper. For example, the report said that AGB Search, the firm hired by FAU to assist with the presidential search, communicated with Levine about “search-related business” and that Levine “had final authority over what was provided to the committee.”

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“However, information provided to Chair Brad Levine was not always shared with the Presidential Search Committee as a whole,” the report said.

The proposed changes would prohibit Levine from being able to lead FAU’s revamped search.

Meanwhile, the FAU presidential search will remain suspended until the Board of Governors takes final action on the proposed regulation changes, Rodrigues indicated Wednesday.

“There’s been no activity since our last meeting,” he said.

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