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FL Board Of Governors Weighs Presidential Search Rule

Florida Board of Governors

The Florida Board of Governors has taken the first steps toward approving a standard search process for university presidents, with a final vote on approving the policy expected at the panel's June meeting.

Though board members discussing the policy Thursday didn't point to any one event as a catalyst for the change, it comes after some schools - most prominently Florida State University - saw searches become contentious. FSU eventually hired former state Sen. John Thrasher, who took over at the Tallahassee-based school in late 2014.

Those involved in crafting the new policy focused on the rarity of presidential searches and the need for a uniform policy.

"This is obviously important because universities don't select a president every day. ... Since it happens every five or eight years, it'd be good to have some guidelines to help run the process through, since there are so many interested constituents," said Ned Lautenbach, vice chairman of the board and a leader of the group that came up with the policy.

The task force that developed the rule included members of the boards of trustees from each university in the state. The rule would limit the size of presidential search committees to 15 members; require schools to develop compensation reports to use when setting a new president's pay; and lay out other steps that a search committee or a board of trustees would be required to take.

It wouldn't change the standards for approving or rejecting a proposed president, and it would still require a two-thirds vote by the Florida Board of Governors to turn down a candidate submitted by a university's board of trustees.

"I think what we have tried to do and have accomplished here is create a regulation, but do it with significant input from the universities so that it's a document that everybody had participated in and helped create," said Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors.

The rule does make one change that potentially could have averted some of the controversy that surrounded the early stages of Thrasher's selection as FSU president. At one point, the school's search committee voted to "pause" the search process and interview only Thrasher before moving forward.

Members of the committee said Thrasher's desire for the position had kept other potential candidates from applying. But the move to limit the search upset students and faculty members. The new rule would essentially bar universities from considering just one candidate for the position.

"The search committee is required to submit more than two qualified applicants to the board of trustees for consideration, other than in exceptional circumstances making fulfillment of this requirement infeasible," it says. "If more than one candidate is not coming forward, the board of trustees must be notified of the reason and may decline to act."

Members of the Board of Governors first began floating the idea of changing the process for presidential searches two years ago during the FSU process, though some noted at the time that FSU was not the only school to face issues with a search.

Currently, Florida Gulf Coast University is searching for a new president to take over when Wilson Bradshaw retires next year.