The University of Florida made a mockery of the Sunshine Law last year in its presidential search.
A bill coming today for a state Senate committee vote would allow universities to legally ignore public records and open meetings requirements in conducting presidential searches — along with searches for provosts and deans.
It’s a testament to the extent that UF has bent the law that the measure might actually make presidential searches there more open.
SB 182 would exempt names of applicants for university president, dean and provost positions from the open-records law. But after finalists for a position were chosen, universities would be required to release the names at least 10 days before making a selection.
Ten days would be an improvement for presidential searches at UF. In October, UF made its presidential selection over a three-day process.
On a Monday, three candidates for on-campus interviews were selected. That Tuesday, two finalists were named. That Wednesday, Kent Fuchs was picked for the position.
UF played fast and loose with the public records and open meetings law well before that process. While the university touted an open search process that included months of public meetings, the real decisions were made behind the scenes with the help of a private consultant.
UF officials can point to the selection of Fuchs, a well-qualified candidate who has seemed like an ideal fit in the early going, as justification for the process. But that only provides more evidence that creating new exemptions to the Sunshine Law is unnecessary.
The bill — sponsored by Sen. Alan Hayes, R-Umatilla — goes even further in creating new secrecy for provost and dean searches. The searches have traditionally been longer processes in which the faculty, staff and students working and studying under those leaders have ample time to weigh in.
Universities are public institutions that should be accountable to the public. Applicants for top-level jobs understand that they’re held to a higher level of scrutiny than their counterparts in the private sector, despite claims by bill proponents that qualified candidates are turned off from applying.
The bill, which will be considered today by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, comes as the Sunshine Law is under increasing attack. Gov. Rick Scott has shown a blatant disregard for the law in actions such as the back-room ouster of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief.
After passing a record 22 public records exemptions last year, lawmakers are considering dozens more bills this session that would make additional changes to the Sunshine Law.
Lawmakers should reject the exemption for university job searches, despite the fact that it would make UF presidential searches somewhat more open.
The effect on searches for other important university positions — as well as the precedent it sets — would strike a blow against transparency at some of our most important public institutions.
Original article here.