Florida Atlantic University defends presidential search after state halts process

Search suspended until further notice after state leaders cite 'anomalies' in process
Florida Atlantic University sign in April 2023
Posted at 9:54 PM, Jul 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-11 06:19:40-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — A sudden halt in the ongoing process to find the next president of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Just last week, the university announced three finalists for the job. Days later, state leaders requested that FAU suspend the search until further notice, citing "anomalies" in the search process.

But late Monday, FAU answered back for a second time, looking to keep this process moving forward.

In a four-page letter from FAU Board of Trustees chair Brad Levine to Chancellor Ray Rodrigues of the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors, Levine provided a detailed defense of the search process and addressed concerns raised by the state.

"FAU is anxious to resume our search process. Although we had to postpone the public forums that were scheduled for today, we would like to resume the schedule that was set for later this week. We therefore respectfully ask that you authorize us to resume our process as soon as possible," Levine wrote.

READ: FAU's Monday Letter To Chancellor Rodrigues


The finalists are Vice Adm. Sean Buck, superintendent of the United States Naval Academy; Michael Hartline, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business at Florida State University; and Jose Sartarelli, Ph.D., former chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Public forums with the three selected FAU president finalists were supposed to begin at the university on Monday. But instead, the process is on hold while the university and the state go back and forth.

Just who will be the next occupant of the Baldwin House — the campus residence for the FAU president — hangs in the balance after a letter from the chancellor of the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors.

The letter from Rodrigues said "this office has received concerning information regarding anomalies that have been alleged in the Florida Atlantic University presidential search."

It refers to a straw poll conducted for search committee members to rank their top candidates, which may not have followed protocol.

The letter also questions a survey sent to candidates, asking about their gender and preferred pronouns. It calls those questions "wholly irrelevant... inappropriate and potentially illegal."

In response, Levine said the university did not authorize that questionnaire from the search firm and would be taking appropriate and aggressive action to address it.

Levine also said "our search process has complied with all legal requirements and been conducted in a proper manner." He added he was anxious to provide information to clarify any misconceptions.

The exchange comes just days after the university announced its three finalists for the job. Notably not on the list was conservative State Rep, Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who had the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, despite not having an education background.

"It would appear, on the surface, that may be the motive behind this, but we’ll learn more in the days ahead," WPTV political analyst Brian Crowley said.

Crowley said the university system has never been under as close of a watch as it is now under the DeSantis Administration. Crowley fears politically motivated interference — if that's the case — could negatively impact Florida's ability to attract top educators.

"As it stands right now, it appears all of the efforts the Board of Trustees went through to come up with three finalists — they were on the verge of introducing the finalists to the university community and have a number of events where people could see them — that is now stopped," Crowley said. "And that begs the question, what is the point of being on the Board of Trustees if every action you take, especially something as big as appointing a president, is going to be arbitrarily halted for political reasons?"

WPTV is also hearing from the United Faculty of Florida, the union for higher education.

UFF state president Andrew Gothard is calling on Rodrigues to step back and allow the search process to continue, or resign from his position.

Late Monday, local union leaders said they believe this is about politics.

"We were very hopeful with candidates coming in this week that we avoided political interference, because the search process had been very collaborative, open, very transparent, and very professional," said Dawn Rothe, the FAU chapter president of the UFF.

"It's a bad signal to send anyone who wants to apply to these jobs, too," said Christopher Robe, the FAU chapter vice president of the UFF. "They spend all of this time and money to do it, and then have it go haywire at the end."

Rothe said she was looking forward to having the opportunity to hear from the finalists this week, before learning the process was on hold. Rothe added the UFF has issued a call to action to employees to share what is happening, asking them to write to the Board of Governors and allow the search to continue.

"I was a bit angry that at this stage in the game, all of a sudden, we have political interference," Rothe said. "We did not see this same concern over sunshine laws at other universities."