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FL Bills Propose Making University Job Searches Private

PHOTO: Bills being considered in the Florida House and Senate propose making the selection process of state college and university presidents private. Photo credit: morguefile.com/grietgriet
PHOTO: Bills being considered in the Florida House and Senate propose making the selection process of state college and university presidents private. Photo credit: morguefile.com/grietgriet
March 25, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A bill that would make the process of selecting university and Florida College System presidents private advanced Tuesday through its third state House committee. Opponents fear that House Bill 223, if passed, would shut the public out from the process of selecting some of the highest-paid positions in the higher-education system.

"Faculty, staff, parents, students, taxpayers, all of those folks would be shut out of the decision-making process," said Jennifer Proffitt, president of the United Faculty of Florida, which represents more than 1,600 faculty in the state. "This is really problematic because the public should have a right to know why this person is selected."

Similar legislation, Senate Bill 182, will be considered on Thursday in the state Senate. Supporters of exempting the selection process from state Sunshine Laws say the current system discourages high-profile people from applying for the position.

Rich Templin, legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, said that allowing the process to take place behind closed doors invites the inclusion of candidates who might not have academic interests at heart.

"Powerful political figures frequently apply for these positions," he said. "I foresee if this legislation passes, we will have a university system that is dominated by politicians, not the highly qualified academics that we want."

Proffitt said the claim that qualified applicants are discouraged from applying has been proved false by recent searches for leadership at Florida State University, the University of Florida, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Florida Atlantic University.

In "all of these searches, well-qualified people did apply and have been selected," he said, "so it just doesn't seem to be a compelling enough reason to keep the public in the dark about who's applying for these positions and how the finalists are determined."

Thirty-nine people applied for the recent open position of FSU president, with the understanding that the process was open to the public.

More information on HB 223 is online at myfloridahouse.gov, and SB 182 is at flsenate.gov.

Stephanie Carson/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - FL