2 college-leadership searches in Florida battle for candidates

Simply eight candidates applied to lead Florida’s state university system this summer, and few had extensive experience working at a US university.

The system’s board of governors selected state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican who has served at the state university. Rodrigues is also a close ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican who has been a harsh critic of the state’s higher education system.

Meanwhile, at Florida International University, some 70 people applied to be the next president of the institution. However, the top three candidates selected by the search committee were eliminated Miami Heraldand the only finalist is the interim president — who hadn’t even run for the job and had previously said he wasn’t interested.

To some observers, the results indicate that the state’s political climate is discouraging candidates to lead public universities. Three other such universities are searching for new presidents: Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Florida.

“It would be naive not to think that the state’s high-profile political climate is a major factor in dissuading potential candidates from running,” said Felecia Commodore, associate professor of educational foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University. “Florida has gotten a lot of press lately about what some are calling a heavy-handed approach to state agencies by the state’s executive branch,” the Commodore said. A Chronicle This year’s analysis called it a “red state disadvantage.”

There has been a lot of press in Florida recently about what some are calling the state executive branch’s heavy-handed approach to state agencies.

Among the issues Florida’s public colleges have faced under DeSantis are new laws requiring them to: campus on “intellectual freedom” issues; limit teaching about race, racism and gender; establish a stricter post-tenure review system; force professors to post their entire syllabi online before the start of each semester; and will change accreditors over the next decade.

Florida has also been in the national news for academic freedom controversies. Last year, the University of Florida barred several professors from participating as expert witnesses in voting rights litigation against the state. Recent Chronicle The investigation found that the university’s initial decision in the case, which was overturned after a week of bad publicity, stemmed not from top-down orders from Tallahassee but from the campus’ own bureaucracy.

Commodore said there could be many other reasons besides politics that caused potential candidates to drop out or avoid applying, including “institutional reputation or history, the current span of control college presidents have, bias against an internal candidate and job stress after Covid-19.”

Whatever the reason, he says, boards should be concerned if they’re not getting a diverse pool of highly qualified applicants.

Deanne Butchey, an adjunct professor at Florida International University’s College of Business, pointed to another Florida law that likely pushed many of the top candidates out of the institution’s presidential search: a new measure that now allows public colleges to keep candidates’ names secret up to 21 days before a finalist is named.

Previously, the public would have known the names of all presidential candidates throughout the hiring process.

None of the top three candidates wanted their names released unless they were the only finalists because they were also running for other positions, said Butchey, who is chair of the Florida International Faculty Senate and served on the search committee for the new president. .. After these candidates were eliminated, the search committee turned to the interim president, Kenneth A. Jessellwho has been the financial manager of the university since 2009.

While the top candidates identified by the search committee were all “superstars,” Butchey said, Jessell is the perfect choice because of his understanding of the university and the community it serves.

He said the other candidate would have had to adjust and learn the intricacies of working in South Florida. “Someone who comes in with a national perspective,” he said, “doesn’t understand the complexity of our diverse community.”

A candidate from outside of Florida also has to “move around the political environment that we’re in,” Butchey said, “and it takes a long time to make those connections.”

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