FL faculty union calls out state meddling of FAU president search

“The Chancellor only barks when the Governor yanks his chain,” the union wrote.

By: - July 10, 2023 8:11 pm

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton. Credit: FAU.

The United Faculty of Florida on Monday called for Board of Governors Chancellor Ray Rodrigues to allow the presidential search at Florida Atlantic University to continue — or immediately resign.

The union of higher education faculty and staff questioned the motives behind Rodrigues’ move to pause the search because of alleged transparency problems during the FAU presidential process, according to the union’s statement.

The South Florida university based in Boca Raton last week presented three finalists for the FAU presidency and planned to conduct public forums with the finalists on campuses on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, according to the search committee.  But Florida’s Board of Governors, the umbrella organization that oversees the state university system, has since blocked the move, though the union described the three candidates as “highly qualified.”

House Rep. Randy Fine introduces HB 1423 while several drag queens sit behind him. March 24, 2023.  Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

Meanwhile, a name was missing from the group of finalists — state House Rep. Randy Fine, who represents part of Brevard County.

He did not make the cut after saying in March that Gov. Ron DeSantis approached him about the position “but had not received a formal offer or said if he would accept the job,” according to The Palm Beach Post. The Republican lawmaker, who is a former gambling industry executive, is one of the representatives who has opposed drag shows.

Fine has also faced controversy at times. As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, a civil rights advocacy group filed a complaint in August of 2021 against Fine, alleging “hateful” and “atrocious” social media comments calling Palestinians “animals” and Muslims “monsters” and “terrorists.”

At issue is a July 7 letter written by Chancellor Rodrigues, who cited complaints made to his office about a straw poll sent to members of the FAU search committee asking them to rank their top six candidates out of a pool of nearly 60, which he said did not give time for the committee members to discuss the candidates. Another anonymous complaint alleged that a candidate had been asked what his gender and preferred pronouns were, Rodrigues wrote in the letter to FAU’s Board of Trustees Chair.

In his response to Rodrigues, Board of Trustees Chair Brad Levine, who also serves as the FAU Presidential Search Committee Chair, wrote on July 8 that the committee didn’t know about the questionnaire related to gender.

 “Based on his patterns of silence and complicity, it is clear that the Chancellor only barks when the Governor yanks his chain, not when laws are actually being violated,” according to a press statement from UFF.  “In short, Florida’s university system deserves better than this partisan sham of leadership.”

A partisan straw

AGB Search, Inc. has assisted 12 Florida universities and state colleges in finding presidents and other officials, according to the firm’s website. The questionnaire is entirely voluntary, and it’s to ensure that the search attracts qualified candidates from all walks of life, wrote Rod McDavis, managing principal and CEO, in a statement to the Florida Phoenix. The collected data on gender has no impact on candidacy, according to the search company.

“The FAU search committee was not aware of the survey questions and did not receive the collected demographic information, in aggregate form or otherwise,” McDavis wrote. “AGB Search is working very closely with FAU to answer any outstanding questions so the search process can resume in a timely manner.”

The finalists are Vice Admiral Sean Buck, superintendent of the United States Naval Academy; Michael Hartline, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business at Florida State University; and Jose Sartarelli, Ph.D., former chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

As to Fine, “He’s just not qualified to be a president of a university especially given FAU’s diverse student body and faculty body,” said Dawn Rothe, a FAU professor and UFF member, in an interview with the Phoenix. “I was proud that the search committee had maintained the standards that they had said they were going to do and the processes were followed in such a professional manner.”

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Jackie Llanos
Jackie Llanos

Jackie is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond. She has interned at Nashville Public Radio, Virginia Public Media and Virginia Mercury.