Thursday, April 24, 2014

Second Meeting of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, April 23, 2014

The morning of the second presidential search advisory committee meeting was quite the shocker. I had been on the presidential search website Monday the 21st and do not recall seeing an agenda posted (that doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t there—but I didn’t see it, and I’d love to know when it was actually posted). I checked again at 8am the 23rd, saw and clicked on the agenda button, and lo and behold there’s an agenda item titled, “Public comment–limit 3 minute per person after sign-in.” Now, let’s be honest. The university sends out notices about surplus sales and some other kinda random stuff, but it does not send out a notice to faculty, students, and staff about public comment regarding one of the most important decisions to be made at a higher education institution? Really?  They didn’t even provide notice about the public comment on the first page of the presidential search website. One had to click on the small agenda button in order to see that there was an agenda item for public comment in front of the 27-person committee and Mr. Funk, president of the search firm who already heard from faculty but seemingly needed to hear from faculty again based on the job search document he created. But I’ll get back to that. How should one interpret not giving true public notice about public comment about the FSU presidential search?  I really don't want to be negative, but this was not a good start. And perhaps ironically, the chair of the search, Ed Burr, said toward the end of the meeting that he allotted three hours for the meeting because he thought there’d be many more people commenting. Yeah. Uh huh. How if no one knew?

I arrived for the 10 am meeting prepared with a very brief statement, not only because we were given only 3 minutes to speak but also because we were given no notice. Fortunately, for the record, four faculty members focused on the need for an academician as president and an undergraduate student discussed the need for a president who would follow through on the undergraduate research initiatives started under Barron. Yet when the guest faculty members looked at the job posting that Mr. Funk presented, we were quite confused (dismayed? shocked? appalled? outraged?) as there was NO mention of academic credentials in the document. NONE. Not even in the section that presumably was created after talking to faculty members at the faculty forum meeting on the 10th of April. And I can assure you that every faculty member who attended that meeting either said we need a scholar or heard others say we need a scholar. Yet NO mention of this critical point in this document. Why? Mr. Funk explained that while the need for an academic is a strong point, he does not want to eliminate anyone from applying because the committee needs to consider leaders from all walks of life.[1 

Yes. Consider leaders from all walks of life.[2]
Fortunately, one of the faculty members on the search committee proposed adding the presidential search criteria approved by the FSU BOT in September 2009 to the job description, the same criteria that led to the hiring of Barron.[3] The first point on this document reads, “Distinguished intellectual stature with strong academic credentials, proven leadership abilities, and a successful record in senior management.” This is now the only statement in the document that mentions the criteria most important to most faculty members I’ve heard from. But I sure am glad it was added.

Another point that has been made by Funk and others is that when doing a search in a Sunshine state, the most qualified candidates wait until the last minute to apply. However, the deadline listed in the documents--July 15--was called a “soft” deadline. If the most qualified apply at the last minute, then why don’t we have a hard deadline? On top of that, the chair suggested that the committee will start evaluating candidates at the next Presidential Search Advisory Committee meeting on June 11, more than a month earlier than the “deadline” that we know is when the most qualified candidates will be most likely to apply. Further, because they don’t know “how the market will respond,” the chair may want to start talking about candidates with the committee by phone in 2-3 weeks (sure hope they plan to publicize the notice for this public meeting this time to allow the public to call in). Also, when faced with the concern that many faculty members are away in the summer so it would be best to wait until late August/early September to interview candidates[4], we heard the chair and others note in the same breath that “we” want faculty to be part of the process and “we” want to start interviewing in July. As one of our colleagues texted to me, “Holy talking out of both sides of your mouth, Batman!” Indeed. And we were told we needed to “trust the process” by the search chair. Maybe I’m too critical, but this part of the conversation certainly felt like a big F-you to faculty. I am quite sure several of the guest faculty members in the room would agree with my interpretation.
Folks, it looks like WE really need to work our networks to find the best candidates for the president position and continue to have our voices heard in the process (yes, I’m still really trying to be optimistic and trust the process!). I applaud the faculty members on the committee for pushing for stronger criteria and pushing for interviews when most faculty and students are back on campus for the fall semester. But we all need to be vigilant if we want a strong academic leader who truly understands the mission of higher education.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Meeting the Search Firm President, April 9 and 10

I attended two meetings last week with the search firm president, Mr. Funk (apologies for the delay in posting--it's dissertation and thesis season!). The first meeting, held Wednesday, April 9, included me and a few other faculty members, and the second one, held the next day, was the open faculty forum (one of my friends pointed out that the 11-12:15 time slot on a Thursday was probably the worst possible time for faculty members to attend such a forum due to teaching schedules and the like—I’d like to think that wasn't by design). I found Mr. Funk to be a likable guy, and he certainly has experience with presidential and other administrator searches, as he pointed out at the meetings and as one can see on his website. The goal of these meetings was to determine what type of president we need, and faculty had a lot to say about this.

During the Wednesday meeting, we made it quite clear that FSU needs a president who is an academician who can work with various constituencies, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, the community, and the Legislature, in order to continue moving us forward to the Top 25 and to retain and recruit faculty. We discussed the rumors about a certain politician as a candidate as well as Funk’s previous recruitment of T.K. Wetherell. I have to say that I got the distinct impression that the fix was in with Wetherell, and still concerned with the mentions of Mitch Daniels in his interview, I asked whether the fix appears to be in this time as well. He responded that he wasn’t feeling any pressure, but with the press naming a certain politician as a contender[1][[2][3], it sure is going to make recruitment more difficult. Mr. Funk does seem quite aware of this as well as evidenced in the open faculty forum.

I found it very interesting at Thursday’s faculty forum that after Mr. Funk introduced himself and highlighted his successful placement of many presidents at many universities—including his alma mater Purdue and Southern Illinois University[4]--he was asked to explain the placement of Mitch Daniels. Mr. Funk backpedaled a bit by positing that he doesn’t vote for the candidates--he just puts forward names. He jokingly said that voting for a president is above his pay grade, but I’m not so sure of that—seems one search can be more than my salary[5]. But after making the point that he doesn’t actually choose presidents, he spent much time discussing how he successfully placed Donna Shalala as the president of the University of Miami (who I hear was a member of the American Federation of Teachers when she was a professor at Baruch College).  He also seemed to suggest that the only politicians he had recruited were Daniels and Wetherell, but he failed to mention Frank Brogan (and, let’s not forget that Shalala was also a politician, albeit one with higher ed cred). The bottom line is that it doesn’t appear to me that Funk and his firm have any problem with placing connected politicians with university jobs in Florida.

Mr. Funk was also asked about how he recruits diverse candidates. His answer was satisfactory (according to my colleague who asked the question), and he provided examples of recent placements including the new president of Ohio State.  I hope that he follows this plan to recruit a diverse pool of candidates--from across the country and beyond.  As a colleague mentioned at the faculty forum, there’s been lots of discussion that the BOT has suggested that the next president should have a tie to FSU, too. This provincialism is certainly problematic and suggests again that a front-runner may have been decided.

A friend of mine suggested to me today that it appears that some disconcerting (or in his words, shady) stuff has been going on around here lately that can certainly affect the results of the search—the Koch brothers’ deal[6][7], the way Eric Barron left[8], the proposed funding for the FAMU-FSU engineering split right when a new president and a new interim president took office[9], and the New York Times article[10] and the FBI Title IX investigation[11] that allege a cover-up of a sexual assault. Add to all of this the make-up of the search committee and the press about the political front-runner for the president position.

I sure hope that we can, through an open search process, prove the world wrong and show that we are transparent and committed to the promise of higher education by choosing a president who understands what is best for faculty, our students, and the people of the State of Florida. As each of my colleagues loudly and clearly stated at the faculty forum and on the Presidential Search website, that person must be a scholar.  I think our students understand this as well.[12]

We really need to use our academic networks to help recruit scholars who are currently administrators and are up to the challenge of leading this university forward. There was a place to nominate candidates on the presidential search site, but I can't seem to find it as I write this post. But the next advisory search committee meeting will be held Wednesday, April 23, at 10:00 am in room 103 in the Turnbull Center (see ) It would be great to see faculty at this open public meeting!