By Jeff Schweers
Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 7, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
Perhaps the second time will be the charm.
More than a year after the state suspended its search for someone to lead the flagship University of Florida after President Bernie Machen was to retire last December, the board of trustees is reconvening a committee to find his replacement for a second time.
Machen, who delayed his retirement at the request of Gov. Rick Scott and the board of trustees, is scheduled to step down Dec. 31 for good.
Asked via email late Monday if there were any circumstances under which he would stay beyond Dec. 31, Machen replied with one word: “No.”
The board of trustees will meet via teleconference on Thursday to establish a search committee, to be chaired by board member Steve M. Scott. The last search committee included administrators and faculty members.
This year, the committee could wind up conducting much of the search in secret. Legislation introduced by Rep. David Kerner, D-Lake Worth, would allow search committees to interview prospective candidates without disclosing any names until finalists for a university president or other executive position are announced.
University officials and search consultants have complained that the state’s Sunshine Law’s lack of confidentiality often prevents the best candidates from being considered for fear their current bosses would not like them searching for new work.
“At the end of the day, if we can fashion a balance between providing access to the candidates and their information as they move deeper into the selection process, but also providing protection in the initial stages, I think that’s a fair way to proceed,” Kerner said.
The bill has passed through several committees and has been added to Wednesday’s Special Order Calendar.
Barbara Petersen, head of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, said that argument doesn’t hold water considering the track record of university presidents selected under the Sunshine Law.
Machen, the 11th president of UF, announced in 2012 that he was going to step down last December, after Scott vetoed legislation that would have given UF the means to pursue top 10 status.
The six-month search was scuttled days before the committee was to recommend finalists, and Machen agreed to stay on for another year at the request of the governor and the board of trustees.
The board of trustees rewarded Machen’s decision to stay by unanimously voting to increase his compensation package by $320,000 and extend his contract through Dec. 31, 2014.
The board has also approved construction of a new president’s mansion, which is being built near the Levin College of Law. The $5 million project will include renovations to the existing president’s home and is expected to be finished some time in 2015.
Machen has been president at UF since 2004.