Regarding your recent editorial condemning SB 182, which would exempt the names of potential candidates for state university presidencies from the Sunshine Laws until the last 10 days. My mind flashed to Harvard’s David Reisman who wrote that Florida’s Sunshine Law was akin to “a Search and Destroy Process.”
Reisman emphasized that although sometimes willing to consider other positions, most top candidates are unwilling to choose to compromise their current positions by public disclosure.
The most important responsibility of a governing board is the appointment of the president and numerous studies conclude that this is among the major problems in higher education today. The appointment process has become so compromised it is virtually bound to produce a problematic appointment: Often the wrong committee is appointed; outside consultation is not used; searches take too long; referencing is done poorly; and confidentiality is breached.
This is particularly true in public universities. The process has dramatically widened the quality gap between public and independent institutions of higher education. As the role of the board has become increasingly less important in the presidential appointment process, the state of the presidential office has declined.
From Harvard to most institutions in the nation, academic standards have become equivocal, public confidence has declined and institutions have been unable to make the changes necessary for restoration.
More good candidates are lost or never attracted because of a lack of confidentiality than all other reasons combined according to a book published by The American Council on Education (Fisher and Koch, page 280, Presidential Leadership: Making a Difference). This is particularly true in states with strong sunshine laws, but it happens in others as well. Confidentiality means confidential to the end.
Many also believe that the final steps of the process should include public interviews on campus. This idea is without foundation. Not only are good candidates lost in this way but personal interviews, including public interviews, are one of the “least” effective variables in predicting job success. There are lots of good talkers; look at politics today.
And where does Florida stand nationally today? The U.S. News and World Report 2015, Best Colleges, lists the Top 10 public universities: 1) University of California-Berkeley, 2) University of California-Los Angeles, 3) University of Virginia, 4) University of Michigan, 5) University of North Carolina, 6) College of William and Mary, 7) Georgia Institute of Technology, 8) University of California-San Diego, 9) University of California-Davis, and 10) University of California-Santa Barbara. Interestingly, no Florida public universities were on the list.
In fairness, yes, occasionally able people manage to negotiate Florida’s troubled waters. Frank Brogan, presently chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, was very effective at Florida Atlantic University despite faculty opposition to his appointment. (They called him a “shoo-in,” and he did not have impressive academic credentials.) His predecessor, Anthony Catanese, now president of Florida Institute of Technology, who did have impressive credentials was also very effective and established a solid academic foundation and new programs for the university.
Yes, the public should have a voice, especially faculty, and to a lesser extent students. Take a lesson from our representative democracy in the name of representation and intelligence. The board should allow the faculty to select two members of the presidential search committee and include the elected president of the student government association. Voila — representation and intelligence!
To use the language of your editorial, their argument in favor of the Sunshine Laws is “poppycock.”
Original article here.