The University of Florida is making a monumental decision this week in selecting its next president, yet the process seems about as rushed as speed dating.
Applications for the job were still coming in Friday, and candidates had until a search committee met Monday to be considered.
At the Monday meeting, the committee reviewed applications from 15 people and decided whom to interview in Gainesville. The committee chose three people:
W. Kent Fuchs, provost at Cornell University.
David McLaughlin, provost at New York University.
Sibrandes Poppema, president of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands.
Today, the committee will interview the three candidates and choose finalists.
Then, later today and Wednesday, finalists will appear before a faculty assembly and a separate meeting of students, staff and community members.
By the end of the day Wednesday, the UF board of trustees is expected to select the next president.
UF is making a mockery of the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires open meetings and public records. While the university had posted several applications online for weeks, the names of some of the most serious contenders didn’t come to light until Friday.
UF’s search consultant, Jan Greenwood, has criticized the Sunshine Law and suggested that the best candidates want to keep their names from being revealed until the 11th hour. That way, officials at other universities can minimize criticism on their current campuses once their interest in another position becomes known.
While there have been five months of public search committee meetings at UF, a shadow process has likely been happening behind the scenes that bends — if not completely breaks — the Sunshine Law.
At a 2012 meeting when he thought reporters weren’t listening, former UF trustee Al Warrington said there should be an “under-the-radar” search using private money to fly current President Bernie Machen across the country to court possible successors.
That search ended up being scuttled when Machen delayed his retirement. The official reason was that Gov. Rick Scott had asked him to stay longer. It was later revealed that Scott met privately with a leading contender for the UF presidency before the search was canceled.
The public has no way to know whether similar political influence has been applied during this search process.
Florida State University’s recent selection of John Thrasher, a state senator and former Scott campaign chairman, as its president doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Even the dog-and-pony show that preceded Thrasher’s selection took longer than the UF process. When it looked like Florida State was going to hand the position to Thrasher, a public outcry led to the decision being delayed for more than three months and three other candidates to also be interviewed.
UF faculty, staff and students will have days, not weeks or months, to vet the next university leader. They must simply trust that there has been due diligence behind the scenes to ensure candidates don’t have problems in their backgrounds.
Even proposed legislation to exempt university presidential searches from the Sunshine Law would still have required applicants’ names to be revealed 21 days before the final selection.
Three weeks looks reasonable as compared to UF’s process.
In the end, the search process is a reflection on UF trustees and other officials and not candidates for the presidency.
We hope that the process concludes with the hiring of an experienced leader who has a vision of how to take UF to the next level. It will be a whirlwind three days for everyone to ensure that will be the case.