Palm Beach Post by Frank LoMonte
February 26, 2020
Being the president of a public university is like being the mayor of a good-sized city.
You oversee a budget that can top $6 billion a year in public money, run a police force, and supervise housing and healthcare services for thousands of people.
But while we’d never accept a mayor secretly hired by a handful of influential business executives, Florida is on the verge of deciding to do just that for state university presidencies.
The state’s tradition of bringing presidential finalists to campus to meet with alumni, faculty and students would be traded for interviews in airport hotels, in which trustees and corporate headhunters will choose someone who may never have set foot on the campus.
For more than a decade, lobbyists for executive headhunting firms — who make their money placing candidates in presidencies — have been telling Florida lawmakers that the state’s famously progressive open-government laws are hurting presidential recruitment. (Never mind that the reputations of the University of Florida and Florida State University have stratospherically soared in recent years under presidents hired in transparent, inclusive searches.)
This year, Florida lawmakers seem to have put aside their skepticism. They’re on the verge of passing legislation that will give corporate headhunters the secrecy they’ve long craved.
There is, in fact, no evidence that universities get better results when they hire presidents without disclosing the names of the candidates, and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that secrecy is making presidential terms shorter and less successful.
In recent years, the flagship state universities in Georgia, Maryland, Oklahoma and Washington have each conducted secret, closed-door searches and ended up promoting insider candidates, with no indication that anyone else received serious consideration. (Trustees in Washington were given scripts to read, including the winner’s name, at the meeting where they were supposed to openly debate the candidates’ merits.)