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Florida faculty union presses UF on presidential search with 1 finalist

Century Tower sits at the heart of the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. [ University of Florida ]

The statewide faculty union is calling on the University of Florida to release the names of the 12 people who were interviewed for the president’s job before a search committee announced that Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse was the only finalist.

The group is also pushing the school to release the age, race and gender of the 700 people that the search committee made contact with during its search. It called on UF to delay the hiring process until the information is released, and threatened legal action if it does not.

The union said in a news release Monday that it believed the university has violated both the spirit and letter of a state law passed earlier this year that keeps college and university presidential searches largely secret until a “final group of applicants” is announced.

The university previously declined requests from the Tampa Bay Times for a list of the 12 people considered by the search committee. It cited state law, and said releasing the information would violate the wishes of those in the final group, which included a number of university presidents from other schools. The chairperson of the search committee previously stated no candidate wanted to move forward in the process to become a finalist if they weren’t the sole finalist.

The union joins a growing drumbeat for increased scrutiny of the search process.

Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, said in an interview that she’s never seen evidence to support the “draconian cloak of secrecy” the new law created.

“A nontransparent process is an illegitimate process in our view,” she said. “Faculty have to be meaningfully involved in every step of the process and that does not appear to have happened here. It makes it extremely difficult for the person to lead the community.”

Last week, the student senate held a vote of no confidence against the student body president, who was on the search committee and was part of the unanimous vote in favor of making Sasse the lone finalist.

Members of the faculty senate have voted to schedule an emergency meeting for Thursday to consider a vote of no confidence in Sasse as the candidate.

Each member of the search committee was required to sign a form pledging to maintain “absolute confidentiality” regarding all prospects and candidates for the job, even after the process ends. The committee decided that only its chairperson would be allowed to speak on behalf of the institution.

Judith Wilde, a researcher at George Mason University who studies presidential searches and contracts, said nondisclosure agreements have been popping up in other searches across the country with varying degrees of “egregiousness,” some invoking law enforcement.

The arguments for privacy, she said, benefit firms that aid universities in their searches and that often recycle unsuccessful candidates among schools.

Wilde said searches with one finalist are becoming more common, even in states with good public records laws. But those candidates don’t tend to last long in the job, she said.

At the University of Colorado-Boulder, the sole pick lasted two years. One at the University of Oklahoma left after 11 months and one at Oregon State University left after 9 months.

“What we’re ending up with is more people leaving the presidency without lasting for their first full contract even, and almost always ending up walking away with money,” she said.

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

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