Saturday, May 31, 2014

Faculty Meeting Highlights

Okay, I have to admit that I was a bit anxious before 2:00 yesterday. To request a faculty meeting on a Friday afternoon in the summer was, to say the least, a bit ambitious, and we all know how much faculty members enjoy faculty meetings. But I have to say that I am more hopeful than ever before because (by two different colleagues’ counts) more than 80 faculty members showed up to discuss the presidential search (and in a room that didn’t have air conditioning for some reason). We had a dynamic, thoughtful, and thought-provoking discussion about faculty responses to the presidential search, and two themes emerged—and for some, these weren’t mutually exclusive. One, the search process is unfair and highly problematic, lacking transparency, openness, and honesty. Two, now that the only candidate being interviewed has finally applied for the position, his materials suggest that he does not have the academic—including research and teaching—experience nor the management experience to lead a large Research I institution on its way to the top 25.

For some, it seems like an uphill battle when politicians have hijacked the search (a term one of our colleagues used that seems so appropriate here). But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our voices heard, even if it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening. It’s like that picture with the frog in the bird’s mouth: The frog is trying to strangle the bird as it is being swallowed (and the caption reads, “never ever give up”). However, I’m not so sure that no one is listening. We now have more than 1000 signatures on our petition, which includes FSU faculty, students, staff, alumni, community members, and Florida taxpayers, as well as colleagues from across the world, who are saying we need a fair process for selecting our next president. I should note that the vast majority of the signatures are people directly associated with FSU or community members from Tallahassee or from Florida (an article in the Democrat suggested otherwise). It's clear that the discontent is palpable.

*By the way, if you do not want to sign the petition because you don’t want to give your email to, which we only used due to the ease of service and not for some sort of political (i.e., liberal or Democrat) positioning, please feel free to:

Send me an email with your concerns about the process, or

Copy and paste our language into an email or a Word document and sign it to send to me, or

Do the same and have people you know who haven’t signed the online version sign a paper or electronic copy to send to me.

I will print these out for the Search Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees.  Please indicate in your note that this is what you’d like for me to do. My email address is*

Now, I know not everyone agrees (or at least I received one email to this effect), and hey, you don't have to. But I’d like for someone to explain to me how preferential treatment for a politician who had not yet applied is a fair and open process? To make a decision without knowing if the person is even qualified to run? Please tell me, how many of you got interviews based only on a letter of recommendation? No resume, no CV, no credentials presented, just a letter of recommendation from someone you’ve had political and personal dealings with. And your letter was announced via the press when no one knew who the other applicants were or whether they were qualified. I don't care what political party one is affiliated with, the process is simply wrong. 

I was accused of being overtly political by questioning the search process, but if that is a political stance, so be it. And I’m not alone. I know this for a fact. Even the person who reportedly helped the sole candidate write his letter--a person who is one of my colleagues in the School of Communication--suggested that the process was problematic.[1

In fact, the notion that the “long shadow” of Senator Thrasher would keep people from applying is obviously not true given House Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda’s application[2] as well as the application of Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston, who applied today.[3] Of course, Polston was one of the justices who voted to uphold the decision to cut our pay by mandating that we contribute 3 percent of our salaries to retirement.[4

The question is, has anyone else applied who we don’t know about? One who meets the criterion “distinguished academic credentials”?

I encourage everyone who has an opinion about the search process and how it is proceeding to contact the Search Advisory Committee Chair (email in a previous post), the BOT (emails in a previous post), and the media through letters to the editor. Or you can sign the petition at if you agree that we need to reset the search, or send me a note as explained above.  And hey:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Finally, an application

The Tampa Bay Times posted Senator Thrasher's cover letter and resume this evening. The article and links to the documents can be found here:

The cover letter in particular is an interesting read, especially when you compare Senator Thrasher's letter to his record. A new website,, provides information about the Senator's voting record and his support for the elimination of tenure for K-12 teachers, among other issues. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sign the Petition

People have been asking how they can express their dismay (to say the least) about the flawed presidential search. One quick and simple way is to sign the petition to create an FSU presidential search process that is open, fair, and inclusive. You can find the petition here:

Please feel free to share this petition far and wide. This is certainly a national if not international issue as FSU stakeholders live all over the world, and the nation is watching what is happening here in Tallahassee. 
In fact, it appears that there's a politician epidemic in higher education these days. Nebraska governor Dave Heineman applied for the University of Nebraska President position today.[1][2]  Howard L. Hawks, Chairman of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, issued a statement today that I think everyone should read.[3] What struck me immediately was the following:

"Our immediate focus is on attracting a deep, rich and diverse pool of applicants from throughout the country. It would be most unfortunate for the citizens of the state if any particular person's interest in the position resulted in undermining the legitimacy of the search and kept any highly qualified individuals from applying for the presidency.
Let me be very clear. This is a fair and competitive process and the Board of Regents seeks and welcomes the candidacy of any person, including the governor, who believes he or she has the qualifications and experiences necessary to effectively lead the University of Nebraska. Our objective is to seek, vet, and hire the most qualified candidate."

Too bad the FSU Board of Trustees Chair Allan Bense and the FSU Presidential Search Advisory Committee Chair Ed Burr do not seem to agree.

Monday, May 26, 2014

'Cause you gotta have faith...

I’d like to think I have a thick skin. Not as thick as it should be, maybe, but in our profession, everyone critiques us—students tell us their perceptions of our teaching, supervisors evaluate us, anonymous reviewers criticize our work, etc. But when I read, with increased trepidation, the Tallahassee Democrat’s Gerald Ensley’s article[1] that basically says, face it, the university is a corporation that relies on football for its national reputation and needs a (political) CEO, and faculty members are just rank and file who apparently should accept that their fate is in the hands of the BOT and should trust the procedures of what many of us perceive as a flawed (at best) process that only invited one candidate—who frankly doesn’t meet the criteria voted upon by the Search Advisory Committee—to be interviewed, I choked on my coffee.  Sorry, folks, but if we wait until the process plays out, it might be too late.

As one of those faculty members who is obviously opposed to the way the process is playing out, perhaps I’m taking this description of faculty too much to heart.  But based on the texts and emails I received yesterday about this article and the “our opinion” editorial that also asks us to rely on faith (rather than logic, which would suggest that the process hasn’t been honest), I am not the only one who finds these arguments offensive at worst and ill-informed at best. And Ensley is probably not the only one who holds them, so I’m not just taking him to task here.

I would like to remind those who remind us that Senator Thrasher steers money to FSU that Senator Thrasher was in a leadership position when we suffered massive budget cuts. I cannot accept the premise that the only thing a president should do is be able to use his political power to finagle money from the Legislature. A university president should be a leader in his/her academic field, have established academic leadership credentials, be a strong listener and able to work with various constituencies across campus, and cherish and protect the mission of higher education. Fundraising is certainly important when Legislatures like Florida’s cut educational funding and call it reform or whatever they like to call it, but a strong academic leader increases the reputation of a university, inspires people to want to give money to the university, and increases opportunities for external funding (as a colleague reminded me yesterday, a politician without academic experience couldn’t even submit a grant through FSU).

And most faculty agree that academic credentials are key: in our 2014 UFF-FSU poll, an overwhelming 87% of faculty members hope our next president is an academic (fundraising experience was a distant second at 33%; legislative experience was nearly last at 15%). As a friend exclaimed, it's almost impossible to get 87% of people to agree on anything!
Further, controversial partisan politicians have not really demonstrated an ability to listen carefully to those with alternative views, work with various constituencies, or raise the academic reputation of a university.  I have watched person after person after person stand up and oppose a bill in the Legislature and the committee still votes yes. That’s the way it works in politician land. In university land, faculty governance is sacred. And when faculty morale is low due to the leadership ignoring faculty governance and academic integrity, the university suffers.  Many of us remember those days not so long ago.

I am also disgusted by arguments equating university presidents to CEOs. The mission of a corporate entity is to make money. That is its sole function: to make money for shareholders. The mission of a university is quite a bit different. Note the mission posted on FSU’s website:

The Florida State University preserves, expands, and disseminates knowledge in the sciences, technology, arts, humanities, and professions, while embracing a philosophy of learning strongly rooted in the traditions of the liberal arts. The university is dedicated to excellence in teaching, research, creative endeavors, and service. The university strives to instill the strength, skill, and character essential for lifelong learning, personal responsibility, and sustained achievement within a community that fosters free inquiry and embraces diversity.

Tell me where making money is listed here!?  

If hiring a politician is the only way this university can get money from the Legislature, then we live in a very, very disturbing time. How is it that the University of Florida BOT recognizes that distinguished academic credentials are vital for the leader of its university but FSU must hire a politician?[2

We need a strong academic leader with a national or international reputation who values the role of the university to advance knowledge, to support and sustain ground breaking, cutting edge research, and to teach our students how to be critical, creative, innovative, independent thinkers and leaders in all fields, including the humanities as well as the sciences and who values and protects diversity, academic freedom, and faculty governance. Period.  And if someone outside of the university system tells faculty again to basically sit down and shut up and accept that universities are corporations and politicians are the wave of the university future, I'll scream. And cancel my subscription.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Aftermath of Wednesday's Search Advisory Committee Meeting

There’s been a lot of press regarding the Search Advisory Committee’s decision Wednesday to only interview John Thrasher. A day later, House Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda applied for the position as well, stating, “I don’t think the committee had the appropriate choices, so I decided to put myself up against John Thrasher…He’s a lawyer and I’m a lawyer; he’s a legislator and I’m also a legislator. But I have experience working in higher education.”[1]

However, one of the most striking articles about the search, in my opinion, was the one in the Gainesville Sun published May 23 titled, “Trustees Adjust Criteria for UF Presidential Search.”[2] It reads:

A distinguished academic career is the first and foremost quality the University of Florida board of trustees is looking for in its next president.

The board voted unanimously Friday to adopt an amended set of search criteria for the 12th president of the state's flagship university.

"Distinguished academic career" is right up there in the preamble, underscoring the board's commitment to finding someone who can lead UF into the top 10 of public research universities in the nation.

The adoption of the criteria also shows that UF is committed to a nationwide and international search to find the best candidate possible, trustees and UF officials said.

It continued (and here’s the kicker):

The committee members say they don't expect to follow the same path as Florida State University.

Wow. This really makes FSU look like a bad Florida political joke, no? The other preeminent university in the state saw the travesty that is the FSU Presidential Search process and voted to underscore the board’s commitment to academics, not politics.

This is the key. People keep asking me what I think of John Thrasher as the potential president. But it’s not really about Thrasher, is it? This is a perfect example of politics as usual in Florida. Politicians have usurped the process and are unabashed by it. To follow the political trail that led to the decision to interview only one political candidate with no academic experience (other than an undergraduate degree and a JD from FSU) makes one’s head spin.

I keep coming back to the notion of loyalty as a criterion for the president of a Research 1 university. Those who know me know I’m from Pittsburgh and a loyal Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Just because I’m a loyal Steelers fan who bleeds black and gold doesn’t make me qualified to be the coach of the team. No one can deny the love Senator Thrasher has for FSU, but does that qualify him to serve as the president of an institute of higher learning? 

As faculty members have said over and over again, to move into the top 25, it takes a leader with strong academic credentials. UF’s Board of Trustees gets it. Why doesn’t FSU’s board? Why isn’t the FSU board demanding multiple candidates, candidates who meet the criteria that the Search Advisory Committee agreed to—unanimously—at the April 23 meeting?

Perhaps we should ask them. You can contact all of the members of the BOT by clicking here: Send email to the BOT

Faculty members have contacted me to ask whether they should tell potential candidates to go ahead and apply. That is, is it worth their time to apply since all signs point to a preordained political candidate? My suggestion is for faculty members to nominate any academic leader who they think is qualified for the position, just as Senator Al Lawson, a member of the Search Advisory Committee, challenged faculty members to do at Wednesday’s meeting. Interestingly, Al Lawson is also a former state senator and is currently a paid FSU lobbyist. Thrasher is a current senator. Conflict of interest anyone?

Unfortunately, it looks like a nomination is all it takes to get an interview around here—that and strong political connections. This is the perception the rest of the world will have of FSU: a presidential search that smacks of flagrant political maneuvering rather than a fair, open, transparent search that selects the very best qualified candidates to interview.

But I refuse to believe that this is over. It looks hopeless, I know. And perhaps some faculty members are okay with the decision, so again, I’m not claiming to represent all views. But I am confident, based on the number of emails I’ve received and people I’ve talked to over the last few days, that there are lots of faculty and students across campus who are outraged and want to do something. So UFF-FSU is planning a meeting for all faculty next week. Details to come when I have them, but plan on Friday afternoon. I also realize that there are community members, parents, and alumni who are watching what’s going on and are just as outraged by the political takeover of the search process and what this means for FSU—and Florida in general--in terms of the university’s academic reputation as well as faculty retention and recruitment. If you are in the area, feel free to contact me at for more information.

From the email I've received, it is clear that disappointment and concern about this flawed search can be heard all across campus, no matter one’s political persuasion. People don’t like unfairness, or when the game appears (or is) rigged, or when a winner is predetermined, or the feeling of being duped or taken advantage of. Let’s let the politicians know that this highly unusual decision to only consider one candidate is unacceptable and that we want a new search and a search committee that includes more faculty and student representatives. A university is useless without faculty and students, so we should have a larger say regarding who we want as a leader than the Florida political establishment.

Oh, and FYI, the search firm that UF hired is the women-owned, Florida-based firm that FSU did not hire.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Contact information

I was asked to provide the Chairs' contact information, which I found on the Board of Trustees' website:

Chair of the Search Advisory Committee (and Board of Trustees member) Ed Burr:
Greenpointe Holdings LLC
7807 Baymeadows Road East #205
Jacksonville, FL 32256
904/996-2481 FAX

Chair of the Board of Trustees (and Search Advisory Committee member) Allan Bense:
1405 West Beach Drive
Panama City, FL 32401

More information regarding the members of the Committee can be found here:

More information regarding the Board of Trustees can be found here:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Presidential Search Advisory Committee Meeting May 21, 2014

Well, I can only really describe it as like a slow moving train coming closer and closer, and suddenly one blinks and the darn thing is about to run us over. Today, the Search Advisory Committee met and the search firm president, Mr. Funk, advised the committee to vet only Senator John Thrasher as a candidate for the position. This, he argued, would allow for a more level playing field--if the committee votes for him to be president, the search would be over; if the committee votes no, then other candidates may apply. As one of the faculty members on the search committee stated, to interview one candidate is highly irregular (or in my words, it is complete BS).

To say that the search is open and fair and to then say we are only going to vet one candidate does not in my mind seem at all compatible. In fact, it seems impossible. Academic searches for any position should include multiple candidates so the committee members have comparisons to make. The facts that the search firm did not list a deadline on the national advertisement and did not use the criteria that the search committee agreed to, which included academic credentials, need to be considered for such actions effectively discouraged people from applying. This is outrageous. Further, we have no idea who did actually apply, but we do know that Senator Thrasher had not yet applied. Despite this fact, one politician motioned to only interview Thrasher, another politician seconded the motion, and another politician spoke favorably to the motion. Note the pattern.

Before the meeting, we were told via email by the Chair that there would be no public comment. At the beginning of the meeting, the Chair told the room that there would be no public comment. After a quick discussion with a person who I really need to thank profusely, a 20 minute public comment period was granted. All of the speakers--students and faculty--disagreed with the decision to interview only one candidate for various reasons, not the least of which is it is not fair and open competition to only interview one candidate. After the public comment period, the members of the Search Advisory Committee voted 15-9 to only bring in John Thrasher as a candidate. As one of the faculty members on the committee noted for the record, all of the students and faculty members on the committee voted no. This of course is key.

I've been saying all along that it appeared the fix was in. Sometimes I really hate being right about such things. But I'm remaining optimistic. It's not a done deal yet. We can still derail the train. We still have some power in numbers. We can be convincing. We can organize to say no, this is not a fair and open and honest and transparent process. This is Florida politics, pure and simple. We can say no, this is a university not a political extension of the Capitol. And to have the search firm and search chair say that Thrasher is the only viable candidate because no one else will apply (even though 11 nameless people did in fact apply) after only advertising a highly problematic ad for two weeks that would discourage most of the viable candidates out there from applying is--how should I say it--ludicrous. We must continue to be engaged and attend the next meeting when the Search Advisory Committee begins interviewing Senator Thrasher, the only candidate being considered. As stated at the end of today's meeting, that meeting will be held June 11 at 10am in the Turnbull Center.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Update to earlier alert

As a follow up to my earlier post today, The Tallahassee Democrat has announced that former FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte has nominated Senator John Thrasher to be the next FSU President.[1] From the beginning of the search, faculty members have expressed the importance of an academic to lead the university into the top 25. The UFF-FSU faculty poll also made it abundantly clear that faculty want an academic as the leader of our institution. I again highly encourage faculty members to attend tomorrow’s meeting.  We may not have an opportunity to speak, but I think our presence will speak for us.

I have been reminded that the BOT is the ultimate decision-maker in terms of who becomes president, and I've been told that faculty are not the only stakeholders in the process. But as far as I can tell, the university does not work without faculty. It is as simple as that.  And our voices deserve to be heard in this process. As I stated before, the faculty on the committee are doing all they can, and as my loyalty obviously lies with the faculty, I think we need to support their efforts to find the best, most qualified president out there. I don't know if the search committee plans to vet candidates tomorrow (I've heard from the press that there are 11 candidates), but if they do, we can be there to serve as witnesses to the process.

As I've stated previously, I am writing from the perspective of a faculty member who also happens to be the president of the faculty union. I became president because I care about faculty needs and achievements, I care about fairness and justice and equality, I care about our students receiving the best education possible, and I care about making Florida State University the best university it can be.  I am not claiming to represent all viewpoints here and I'm not claiming universal truth--my views are my very own, and I am calling it as I see it. That's what blogs do.

Hope to see you tomorrow at this important meeting.

Alert: Presidential Search Advisory Committee meeting tomorrow

The Presidential Search Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, May 21, at 11:00am in 208 Turnbull. I normally wouldn’t pass along rumors, but I’ve heard a disturbing report that a certain controversial politician has been meeting with FSU administrators about the job of president; however, I have not been able to independently confirm this information yet. This information, though, is leading some to think that “something” is going to happen at tomorrow’s meeting. I know this sounds way too general for those of us who value specific, verifiable evidence, but I do want to encourage faculty members and others to attend tomorrow’s meeting whether you believe the rumor or not because a) we need to show the search committee and search firm that we are watching and we are indeed an important stakeholder in this process and b) if something does happen, it would be best to have faculty members in the room as witnesses to what I suspect is at best a questionable search. If we want an open, transparent, and honest search, as was promised to us by the search committee chair and the Board of Trustees[1][2], then we need to be sure to hold the chair and the BOT accountable. The faculty members on the committee are doing what they can, but as only 4 of 27 people on the committee, they could certainly use our support by our attendance at the meeting tomorrow. Search Chair Ed Burr was asked to consider adding public comment to tomorrow's agenda since the public comment for the last meeting wasn't publicized, but he has twice said no. So I do think being there will be important even if we do not have a formal opportunity to speak.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

update regarding 5/12 post

So after the posting of the info about the lack of information on the Presidential Search website, it has now been updated (as of 11:50 am today) with the full criteria voted on at the last search committee meeting. That's good news. Thanks to all who contacted the web folks. Now if they could fix The Chronicle ad...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Posting of the Job Ad, May 5 (online) and May 9 (in print)

The job posting for the president position was published in The Chronicle on May 9, 2014 and posted to The Chronicle's website May 5. If you haven’t seen it yet, I really think you should. It can be found at:

You may (or may not) be surprised to note that the ad does not list academic credentials as one of the ten “characteristics/attributes integral to the role of President,” a list presumably developed by “the University community and Trustees,” despite the fact that this is not the same criteria approved by the search advisory committee at the last meeting or the same criteria the BOT approved in 2009 (as explained in my last post). It does, however, list loyalty to Florida State University as one of the top ten criteria. This is quite curious. How many qualified candidates, nationally or internationally, would have a priori “loyalty to Florida State University”? I just can’t help but ask who in the world would apply to a presidential position with this list of top ten characteristics? How does this list of characteristics “we” are looking for in a President represent Florida State University to the outside world? (And as people who value language and writing skills, the way the list reads is highly problematic as well).  Maybe I’m reading too much into this list. But from what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one.

Further, as of today, May 12, if you go to the website for more information, as the ad asks potential candidates to do, it takes you to the presidential search website. If you click on “About the Position” or “Position Profile,” it takes you to a page that reads, “Coming Soon.” Coming soon? The search firm posted an ad that leads potential candidates to a page that has no additional information? Why wouldn’t the search firm--or whoever is in charge of the website--be sure to have pertinent information about the presidential search on these pages before sending out a job posting to The Chronicle of Higher Education? And please also note that the presidential search website does not have a link for people to apply and does not explain how people can apply. Rather, it states in the Frequently Asked Questions section:  

Q: Who can nominate candidates? Who can apply?
A: Anyone may nominate a candidate through the “Submit Comments” feature on this website.

This is the same place that anyone can post comments.

I have to say that as a faculty member at Florida State University, I am embarrassed by this job posting and the lack of information on the presidential search website.  Perhaps a note to the search firm, the search advisory committee chair, and the chair of the BOT would be useful?

I think I should remind readers that my loyalty lies with the faculty and our students. We--and the people of the State of Florida--deserve an honest, open, transparent process. May the best woman or man be selected from a pool of other well qualified candidates.  However, when we were told at the last meeting by Mr. Funk that listing academic credentials as a qualification would limit the candidate pool, but the search firm, and presumably the BOT, add loyalty to Florida State University as a top criterion in the job ad listed in The Chronicle, I’m worried. We need to do something. Fast. And the next meeting is scheduled for May 21 at the Turnbull Center. Hope to see more faculty there.