The past year’s brutal headlines don’t seem to be hindering Florida Atlantic University’s search for a new president, but the state’s open-records law has made some potential applicants wary, an executive with a search firm said Tuesday.
An FAU search committee plans to begin reviewing applications next week. At a Jan. 6 meeting, the committee plans to choose eight candidates to invite for interviews on Jan. 9 and 10.
Many applicants might wait until just before the Jan. 6 deadline to reveal their interest because applications are public records under Florida’s Sunshine Law, said Laurie Wilder, the executive vice president of Parker Executive Search.
“The candidates that we are most impressed with or potential candidates that we are most impressed with (say) confidentiality has been their number one concern in every conversation,” Wilder told the search committee during a Tuesday conference call. “They are all in jobs that are very important today, they’re not necessarily out looking for another job, they are just intrigued by this position in particular.”
The committee’s discussions of applicants will also be public, Wilder noted.
“What I do not want to do is for in any way as we evaluate these candidates and make judgments on candidates that we defame them in any way that is suddenly…written about in the newspaper,” Wilder said.
Wilder said her firm, which is being paid $90,000 by FAU, has been in contact with more than 400 people about the job. Many of them are not potential applicants but were contacted by the firm to suggest candidates, Wilder said. She guessed the committee would receive about 50 applications by the Jan. 6 deadline.
FAU President Mary Jane Saunders resigned in May while the school was reeling from a series of public relations controversies, including a firestorm over naming the football stadium after a private prison contractor and an uproar over a classroom exercise in which students were asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it. Unwanted national attention also came from a tenured professor’s suggestions that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings might have been hoaxes.
Wilder said potential applicants for president “understand that challenges exist. They have obviously all read the publications and the things that have occurred either from your local newspapers or the Chronicle of Higher Education…The consensus after we have conversations about that is that there is an opportunity for the next leader to make a real difference, that these are — in their words, not necessarily mine — blips in the road. They hurt the reputation of the university but they don’t hurt the future and the mission of the university.”
She said those who have shown interest in the presidency so far include people from “top universities” and the business and public sectors. She also said surprisingly few recommendations have come from FAU faculty members.
“We have received from FAU faculty a very limited number of potential recommendations. I’d say it’s probably less than a handful and that’s probably not good, that’s not as strong as we have seen in other institutions of similar size and scope,” Wilder said. “Your faculty has been anemic as it relates to making recommendations about people they trust and respect throughout the country.”