University of Florida presidential search committee held private meetings with finalist
- In October of 2014, W. Kent Fuchs was hired as the University of Florida's president only two days after he was announced as a finalist. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported he had met with committee members at a hotel 100 miles from the university campus in Gainesville.
- Critics argue that greater transparency is necessary for publicly-funded institutions, with taxpayer money funding the searches and potential applicants, but supporters of maintaining some level of privacy argue that releasing too much information can actually dissuade talented candidates from pursuing the position, especially if it becomes public knowledge they are seeking the job while still employed elsewhere.
- Florida is one of the states that has a "Sunshine Law," which requires that presidential searches for public universities are open and transparent.
Administrators at public colleges must toe a difficult line between transparency and the privacy of applicants in the position, as details about involvement in a search could jeopardize other employment. Administrators could perhaps advocate for a longer and more substantial public comment period, while allowing more leeway and privacy in the time when they are seeking initial conversations with potential applicants. This way, it may help those applicants feel like their names will only become public knowledge if they are announced as a finalist.
There are indications that some public college and university systems may subvert open and transparent processes not to attract talent, but to quickly confirm preferred presidential choices who may be controversial for faculty, students and the general public. In Georgia last year, Kennesaw State University selected former state Attorney General Sam Olens as the school's next president without a public search process. Olens was criticized by many faculty for his opposition to gay rights, and it was alleged that the search process was done in such a manner so as not to cause too much public controversy due to his selection. There also may be an increasing trend among presidential search committees to search for politicians who have left public office to be considered for a role as a college president.
Such selections will often be more controversial and debatable than an applicant who had matured into the process through academia, which may leave presidential search committees more hesitant to afford too much transparency to the process. There is a danger for administrators to conduct the process in this manner, as it will likely only lead to a negative appraisal from staff and students. Without innate buy-in of the selection, or at least an acknowledgement that their views were heard, it is unlikely the staff will stand behind a controversial president if and when the first campus crisis hits.
- Chronicle of Higher Education Secret Meetings and Aliases in a Presidential Search Rekindle Debate About Openness