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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

FAU presidential search violated regulations, BOG Inspector General recommends restart

The Florida Board of Governors and FAU’s Board of Trustees met on a conference call Thursday, Dec. 14 to discuss the next steps for the presidential search following the BOG’s investigation.
Official+logo+for+the+State+University+System+of+Floridas+Board+of+Governors.+Screenshot+courtesy+of+Julie+Leftheris+presentation+on+Dec.+14%2C+2023.
Official logo for the State University System of Florida’s Board of Governors. Screenshot courtesy of Julie Leftheris’ presentation on Dec. 14, 2023.

FAU’s presidential search violated state law and failed to meet audit and compliance regulations, Florida Board of Governors (BOG) Inspector General Julie Leftheris reported of her investigation Thursday during an Audit and Compliance Committee meeting.

The BOG and FAU’s Board of Trustees (BOT) met on a conference call to discuss the next presidential search steps following the inspector general’s investigation results. BOG Chair Brian Lamb introduced Leftheris to the boards and allowed her space to give a presentation on her findings.

Her presentation summarized a 40-page report, which included the timeline of Presidential Search Committee meetings and detailed the issues her office had found in the search process, some of which violated state law and BOG regulations, as well as some observations that she strongly discourages moving forward.

“Our review found areas in which the FAU presidential search was out of compliance with state law and [a] Board of Governors regulation related to the use of a preference candidate survey in May 2023,” Leftheris said.

Office of the Inspector General (OIGC) staff ultimately recommended that the BOT restart the search. Alan Levine, formerly the Audit and Compliance Committee chair, suggested the BOG review and amend Regulation 1.002 regarding the process of university presidential searches before making the official motion to restart the search. He said those revisions should be made prior to the next BOT meeting on Jan. 24.

OIGC staff recommended BOT Chair Brad Levine should not serve as the chair of the next Presidential Search Committee, given his involvement in the failed search. They also deduced there was insufficient evidence to conclude that external political pressure influenced the university to advance or select any specific candidates.

Leftheris said her office found four main issues in the search.

Issue 1: Narrowing down the list of applicants

In her report, Leftheris questioned the legality of the anonymous Top 6 preference survey that AGB Search, the firm hired by the Presidential Search Committee to assist with the search, sent to committee members. State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues referred to this survey in his July 7 letter to Levine as a “straw poll.”

Leftheris concluded that the search committee’s use of the anonymous survey violated the Sunshine Law, writing that they administered it improperly.

“Conducting the survey anonymously limited accountability and the ability to validate the responses… The manner in which the survey was administered prevented AGB Search from knowing which committee members responded, whether committee members responded more than once, or whether the responses submitted were from actual committee members,” the report reads.

She also noted that Levine was aware of and promoted the anonymous conduction of the survey.

Issue 2: Questionnaires administered to applicants

Another issue Leftheris raises in the report concerns the diversity questionnaire that AGB Search administered to applicants, which included questions about applicants’ race, gender, sexuality, veteran and disability status. 

She notes Rod McDavis, the managing principal of AGB Search, said in a May 19 Presidential Search Committee meeting that they, by state law, are required to provide a breakdown of demographics from the applicant pool – however, he did not specify which state law.

OIGC staff ultimately concluded that AGB’s diversity questionnaire was voluntary and the answers did not impact any final decisions. Therefore, the use of the questionnaire did not violate the Sunshine Law.

Leftheris notes, however, that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserts that questions regarding an applicant’s gender and sexual orientation are generally viewed as not job-related and problematic under Title VII. Also that university officials must gather the information but not collect it, citing sections 1000.05 and 1004.098 of the Florida Statutes and BOG Regulation 2.003.

Issue 3: AGB Search potentially withheld information from search committee

Communication between AGB Search and the search committee was not frequent, Leftheris asserts in her report:

“While records indicate that a few committee members emailed AGB Search directly to ask procedural questions at different points in the process, AGB Search did not have routine, direct contact with committee members.”

While AGB knew of two semi-finalists who had concerns regarding the publicity of their finalist status if selected, they did not share these concerns with the search committee, which Leftheris writes could have impacted the committee’s decision to move forward with its selected finalists.

She concluded, however, that there was insufficient evidence for AGB withholding information from the search committee.

Issue 4: Violations of BOG Regulation 1.002

“The FAU Presidential Search process did not fully align with the requirements of Board of Governors Regulation 1.002, Presidential Search and Selection,” the report reads.

BOG Regulation 1.002 maintains that the search committee is responsible for the external search firm’s vetting, or examination, of applicants, ensuring the transparency of public records and resources.

While AGB did its due diligence (reference calls, online reviews and social media research with the purpose of identifying potential issues in candidates) following their contract with FAU, Leftheris concluded that AGB should have provided the committee members with the due diligence results while they were vetting applicants and before selecting interviewable candidates, rather than after the semi-finalists’ selection.

Leftheris also touched on the search committee members’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

After the search committee selected its finalists on July 5, FAU General Counsel David Kian asked members not to comment on the matter publicly. Search committee member Dick Schmidt subsequently wrote an op-ed about the search’s suspension. In it, he referred to politicians’ involvement, which violates the NDA.

The NDA states that search committee members are to “maintain the absolute confidentiality of all prospects and applicants.” Leftheris found in her investigation that Levine, Kian and Vice President of Public Affairs Peter Hull had all acknowledged the op-ed and still allowed it to be written.

OIGC staff came to the conclusion that AGB did not require all of its employees to sign an NDA, violating BOG Regulation 1.002, and Schmidt, Levine, Kian and Hull violated their NDA.

Additional observations

In her investigation, Leftheris observed that two search committee members, Faculty Senate President Kim Dunn and Steve Schmidt spoke one-on-one about matters outside of the formal board meeting, which goes against best practice as recommended by Kian.

She also found that AGB used a private website to share with the Presidential Search Committee confidential due diligence reports, confidential candidate materials and committee materials, which was in compliance with their contract with FAU. However, the use of a single username and password for all committee members to be able to access the site is not a recommended practice, as it increases the risk of unauthorized members to view confidential information.

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.

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About the Contributor
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.

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