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Board of Governors: Sunshine Laws May Deter Potential Chancellors

Finding a plethora of high quality applicants eager to apply for the state's top job in higher education had its challenges, a consultant on Monday told a committee charged with searching for a new state university system chancellor.

The resignation of former chancellor Mark Rosenberg set in motion a search process for a new person to lead the state's higher education system. The search started in earnest this past winter when Bill Funk, a consultant with R. William Funk & Associates, began soliciting applications on behalf of the Board of Governors.

But while the consulting firm got a lot of recommendations, many of the recommended candidates were not so quick to apply.

“I would say that the best adjective in terms of their response was tentativeness,” Funk told the search committee during a phone conference Monday where the committee finalized a list of applicants who will be interviewed for the job.

Funk said there were a combination of factors that hindered the search process. For one, the state's budgetary situation and potential cuts to the university system made taking over the system look daunting. Also, several prominent Floridians, notably Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, and former Rep. Dudley Goodlette, had been mentioned as candidates. Whenever prominent names were thrown around, Funk said, potential candidates became nervous about their chances.

But the state's open records laws may have been the biggest deterring factor, he said.

“The whole notion of these searches being done in the sunshine, where a person's candidacy is immediately known, really tends to dampen the pool a bit,” he said. “Folks are just a little reluctant for their home institutions to know that they're a candidate. Heaven forbid if they're announced as a candidate and they don't get the job.”

The board received 13 candidates for the chancellorship. Florida Atlantic University President Frank Brogan, Florida State Professor and former legislative staffer Steve MacNamara, former Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick G. W. Chu, and Thomas Snyder, the president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana and former president of Delco Remy International, were named finalists Monday.

Board of Governors member John Temple said Funk actually “sugar-coated” the challenges that the open records laws presented the search committee and said the open records law should not be applied to high profile searches, like the chancellorship.

“Having the Sunshine Law applied to searches like this is an abomination and I've been through it before,” said Temple.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, called concerns over the law “baloney” and said the public deserves to know who is interviewed and who doesn't make the cut.

“I don't buy it,” she said. “It rankles me frankly because I hear this every time they're looking for a chancellor, every time a university is looking for a new president. And we get some of the best and the brightest.”

The four finalists will all be interviewed by the search committee Friday in Tampa. The full Board of Governors is expected to meet after the interviews and to make a final selection later that day.

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