The United Faculty of Florida has not endorsed any candidate for President of FSU. However, we know that the person chosen will be the public face of the University. He or she will establish the tone and content of discourse on our campus. We need a President with a demonstrated commitment to public education. We need a President who can work with us and who supports public employees’ efforts to organize and advocate. We need a President who understands academia and will commit to providing a safe, supportive, and open environment for faculty and graduate assistants as we serve our students. And, yes, our new President must be able to raise funds and work with the Legislature and the business community to move our University forward.
Most of the nine final candidates for this position meet these criteria. We are concerned, though, that one of the applicants, our current State Commissioner of Education, is being promoted for the wrong reasons. These appear to be political and not because he has any history of supporting public education, experience with higher education, or any connection to Florida State. Further, the Commissioner’s seat on the Board of Governors, which oversees the entire process, implies a conflict of interest. All of this gives cause for great concern both as regards this process and FSU’s national reputation. Finally, we repudiate quotes used to support his candidacy attributed to a former Florida Education Association officer.
The process has been flawed from the beginning. First, the Florida Legislature attempted to pass a bill (SB220) exempting most of the search process from public scrutiny as required by the Sunshine Laws. UFF and our allies fought throughout the Legislative Session to stop this bill and did in fact succeed in keeping the search process open. The Search Committee then waited to release applicant information until less than a day before selecting finalists to be interviewed. Stakeholders had no time to evaluate the candidates and provide informed comment. Unfortunately, the University has announced that Search Committee meetings with the finalists will not be live-streamed and that in-person attendance will be strictly limited. Once again, this limits stakeholders’ ability to provide input and violates the spirit of the Sunshine Laws. And the Southern Association of Colleges, our accrediting body, has sent our Board of Governors a letter warning about the Commissioner’s conflicts of interest and the politicization of the search process. This poses an enormous risk to the University.
Again, no one at UFF has endorsed the Commissioner. Given the strength of the candidate pool, handing the job to a political appointee with no experience in university administration and a history of hostility to public education risks doing a tremendous disservice to the entire FSU community. We call upon the Search Committee and the Board of Trustees to make a reasoned and informed decision based on the candidates’ histories, experience, and public statements. Our University has made great progress over the last decade. Please keep us on this path to success.
Matthew Lata, President, UFF/FSU Chapter
Ben Serber, President, FSU-GAU