None of the 70 or so FAU professors who met at yesterday's faculty meeting to discuss the school's presidential search had anything good to say about it. Gathered in a second-floor lecture hall at the school's College of Nursing, skepticism and resignation reigned, with frustration the dominant mood -- at the haste of the search and faculty's perceived lack of influence on it.
The presidential search committee began its review of candidate applications in early December and four weeks later narrowed the field of 61 to ten. That will be cut to three by this week's end and the final choice made by the school's Board of Trustees January 17.
Maybe there was some self-selection at work and only malcontents came to the faculty meeting. Just as likely, those who attended were those most aware of the search's progress and concerned for the school's future. Here's what we saw and heard at the meeting (without disclosing any identities but one, as requested):
- Meeting moderator Dr. Ron Nyhan -- President of the Faculty Senate and, as faculty rep on the school's Board of Trustees, the sole prof with a vote on the final choice of new president -- played his part gracefully, with great respect for the professors' discontent. As part of the selection committee that on Tuesday narrowed the 61 initial candidates to ten (one of whom has since withdrawn) he seemed, if anything, apologetic for his inability to bend the process further to faculty influence.
- Citing parallels between the Jeff Atwater candidacy and that of the 2003 prez selection of Frank Brogan, the very first questioner asked Nyhan "Can you assure me the fix is not in?" To which Nyhan replied "I can't speak to it. I don't think it's pre-ordained. The media would like to paint it that way. I don't know if it's true."
- Citing a "lack of controversy" and "lack of discussion" in the selection process so far, another questioner asked "Is there a place in the process where this will actually happen?" Nyhan replied that the process faced "a lot of problems dealing with Sunshine Rules" and that he expected "much sharper discussion" when the final candidates face questioning by faculty next week. "Or at least," he added," I hope so."
- Citing the selection panel's screw-up over candidate Gayle Ormiston's gender -- floated for reasons of "diversity" then withdrawn when "she" was discovered to be "he" -- another questioner asked "Did [the panel] do its homework?" To which Nyhan replied that there were "not a lot of people in that category. But some did."
- "I've never seen anything this hurried," said one prof claiming nearly 30 years service at the school. "Two of [the candidates] have no understanding of the academy. There was no meeting with faculty, no meeting with the deans...This doesn't lend any credibility [so] people are saying the fix is in." To which Nyhan could only reply "This is the schedule. I can't say I wouldn't be happy if it were lengthened."
- On the same note, another prof complained that the recruiters hired as consultants to the selection panel "treated the board [of trustees] members like little school kids" and that the process was "rushed for no particular reason. Eventually it will come out that it was done for someone's benefit." (Purportedly, the search is being done on an expedited basis because a number of other schools are involved in similar searches, i.e., it's a seller's market.)
- Along that same theme, another prof asked "Out of morbid curiosity -- why is this process being ramrodded?" To which yet another chimed in that the search was "designed to create a weak pool" which would result in a final trio of "two politicians and one semi-average academic."
- The sole set of remarks to draw applause from the room contained the comment that, unlike current pol candidates Atwater and George LeMieux, past school president Frank Brogan "had spent his life in education, despite his political background...We need a leader with an appreciation for education and research."
- The most radical comments came from a professor of sciences who called the search "rigged and bad": "We should eliminate the politicians right away," quoth the prof. "They're Republicans, they don't even support evolution. We should vote on this today."
- Our brother-in-ink Frank Cerabino, of the Palm Beach Post, will be happy to hear that one prof spoke up and cited Frank's Tuesday column, in which he lashed former banker Atwater (whose candidacy has run into headwinds) as a politician running out of options looking for a cushy job and whose Tea Party sympathies rendered him unsympathetic to FAU's many low-income students. The prof worried that, at a time when the school is expanding and will be recruiting new faculty, many will be turned off by the prospect of serving under an economic royalist.
Interviews for the remaining nine candidates are occurring today and tomorrow with the presidential search committee. Next week - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - the final three candidates will participate in open forums, one candidate per day. Those should be interesting.
A petition urging the selection of a "professional, experienced university administrator" rather than a politician can be found here.
Thursday, January 9, 2014 8:15 a.m.-9:45 a.m.: Dr. Larry Lemanski 10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Dr. John Kelly 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m.: Dr. Mary Holz-Clause 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Dr. Donald Siegel 3:45 p.m.-5:15p.m.: Mr. David Brennen
Friday, January 10, 2014 8:15 a.m.-9:45 a.m.: Dr. Christopher Earley 10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Mr. Jeffrey Atwater 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Mr. George LeMieux 3:45 p.m.-5:15p.m.: Dr. Robert Wilhelm Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]