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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Attorney General: Presidential Search Committee violated Florida law

Attorney General Ashley Moody determined the presidential search committee broke the Sunshine Law on Monday.
Headshot+of+Attorney+General+Ashley+Moody.
Courtesy of Moody’s website
Headshot of Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a new statement by Michael Harris. 

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody determined on Oct. 30 that Florida Atlantic University’s suspended presidential search violated Sunshine Law, spurring calls for the process to be restarted completely.

Moody said that the Presidential Search Committee’s process of anonymously ranking candidates to a search firm that evaluates and presents said rankings back to the committee violates Florida Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law applies to university presidential searches and selection committees and prohibits this very process, according to Moody.

This process is inconsistent with the Sunshine Law because it uses an evasive device to circumvent public deliberation,” wrote Moody, in a letter to the State University System of Florida General Counsel Rachel Kamoutsas. “In fact, it appears that the very purpose of the process you describe is to inject secrecy into the deliberative process.” 

State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues raised questions about the legality of the search in July when he sent a letter to BOT Chair Brad Levine citing inconsistencies or “anomalies” with the presidential search, claiming they violated state law. Specifically, he brought up the use of a straw poll. The letter asked Levine to suspend the search, and Levine bowed.

There had been no progress in FAU’s search for a new president since July until Monday when Moody decided the presidential search committee had violated the Sunshine Law. 

FAU spokesman Joshua Glanzer did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. AGB Search, the firm hired to help find FAU’s next president and SG President Dalia Calvillo declined to comment.

Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida and an FAU professor, wrote that the state’s political leaders have shown an unwillingness and incapability of applying the law fairly to the higher education system, brushing off Moody’s ruling as another political chess move.

“If FAU violated Florida law with its presidential search process, then I look forward to the same level of scrutiny being applied to the search for Ben Sasse at the University of Florida and Richard Corcoran at New College, among others,” Gothard wrote. “Until then, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s assessment of FAU’s search should be seen as nothing short of what is actually is: a political hit-piece that is representative of the rot that continues to spread from Tallahassee across the Sunshine State.”

Michael Harris, associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, believes the latest decision has to do with a political concern.

“Given the current state of public higher education in Florida, I am suspicious of attacks and claims by state officials. From my perspective, the presidential search committee did not do anything out of the ordinary. As a result, I am left to conclude those raising concerns are more about the outcome not meeting the governor’s desired political result than any improprieties in the search process,” Harris wrote.

Moody, elected in 2018, has worked with Gov. Ron DeSantis on legal action regarding Florida education and backed DeSantis’ bid for president just one day after he announced his candidacy.

“What Florida’s political leaders have shown by continuing to disrupt the FAU presidential search process is that they are either unwilling or incapable of applying the law fairly to every person and institution in our state’s higher education system,” wrote Gothard in an email to the UP. “This is—by definition—a failure of leadership, and this failure demonstrates why our state so desperately needs elected leaders who believe in the public good, instead of punishing those who refuse to play Gov. DeSantis’s political games.”

In March, Florida Today reported that DeSantis was backing Rep. Randy Fine as FAU’s next president. The legitimacy of Fine’s bid was questioned heavily and has completely fizzled out since causing a rift in the two republican lawmakers’ friendship, Fine told the Sun Sentinel. 

While some leaders think Moody’s findings were yet another ploy by DeSantis, others, like Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonprofit open government watchdog, Director of Public Access Initiatives Michael Barfield, concurred with Moody that the law was broken.

“The Attorney General correctly determined that FAU violated the Sunshine Law. In my view, FAU must cure the violations from the point of the infection. That means going back to the point where the problems arose,” Barfield wrote in a Nov. 1 email to the UP. “According to binding case law from the Fourth District Court of Appeals – which includes the jurisdiction of FAU…”

Barfield thinks there is ground for FAU to restart the search process completely. 

“FAU will have to start from scratch if it wants to rely on the search committee’s recommendations. The committee was not allowed to rank the candidates by secret or anonymous ballot. Every vote must be in the Sunshine,” Barfield wrote.

Rep. Anna Eskamani pointed to DeSantis—the first Florida governor to use “executive privilege” to keep public records hidden—and his changes to Sunshine Laws in July, as the culprit of the confusion.

“Last year the Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis weakened Florida’s Sunshine Laws as it applied to presidential searches. This has led to confusion over what aspects are required to be public versus not public and my preference always has been that the entire process should be public and engage students, faculty, and the greater community,” wrote Eskamani. 

“This ensures that political pressures like that of hiring current and past politicians don’t erode the election process. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for a fresh start without any such influences.”

Editor-at-Large Cameron Priester contributed to this report. 

Jessica Abramsky is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Jessica at [email protected] or tweet her @jessabramsky.

Elisabeth Gaffney is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Elisabeth at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @elisabethgaff.

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella.

 

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About the Contributors
Jessica Abramsky, Editor-in-Chief
Jessica Abramsky is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. She previously served as News Editor during the Spring 2023 semester and is a junior majoring in multimedia journalism. She hopes to be a respected editor at a major news organization. You can reach Jessica at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @jessabramsky.
Elisabeth Gaffney, Managing Editor
Elisabeth is a junior majoring in multimedia journalism and double minoring in linguistics and sociology. She is a creative, kitten and coffee-loving workaholic with a love for the performing arts and storytelling. She hopes to one day work as a reporter at an established newspaper.
Sofia De La Espriella, News Editor
Sofia is a junior double majoring in multimedia journalism and history. She is passionate about governance, foreign relations, and the Latin American region. On a determined path toward graduate school, Sofia aims to specialize in these fields and acquire an in-depth understanding of their intricacies. Ultimately, she aspires to become a respected political journalist.

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