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Education

Consultant says FIU presidential search is drawing national attention

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Jessica Bakeman
/
WLRN

Potential candidates across the country are jumping at the chance to be the next president of Florida International University, according to the private firm helping the school handle the search.

Consultant Bill Funk says the job leading the state’s second largest university is appealing partly because of a new public records exemption that will keep applicants’ names secret until late in the process.

“We’re getting calls from around the country,” Funk told members of FIU’s presidential search committee on Monday. “We’re actually very excited about the number of people that have contacted us. And this is before we really swing into action and start contacting on the outside.”

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Funk says a common question from potential applicants is about whether the carveout recently added to state law will keep their identities secret.

“There’s a great deal of interest in the change in the Sunshine Laws allowing confidentiality until the finalists are selected by this group, by the search committee,” Funk said. “We’re getting a lot of questions about that.”

Under the new law, much of the presidential searches at public universities will happen out of public view. Only the identities of finalists will be released, late in the process. Open government advocates fear the provision will allow for more political interference in public education.

Officials involved in the search are looking for a dynamic, student-centered leader — someone with integrity who loves Miami and can effectively advocate for FIU in the state capital.

At the meeting Monday, the search committee approved a slate of recommended characteristics they’d like the next president to have, including an understanding of FIU’s many colleges and schools, a respect of shared governance and academic freedom, and the ability to be the university’s chief fundraiser.

On Tuesday, FIU’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to take a final vote on the job criteria for the position.

Candidates face a “soft deadline” of June 15 to apply for the job, though applications may be accepted after that date. The search committee will then narrow the pool to roughly eight to 10 people to invite for interviews.

The search firm, William Funk & Associates, will conduct background checks of the applicants ahead of the interviews. H.T. Smith, a member of the search committee and the director of the Trial Advocacy Program at the FIU College of Law, pressed Funk on how extensive the checks would be.

“We all know that unfortunately there are some circumstances that are extremely embarrassing that there’s no record of. Like an ongoing investigation or a serious accusation,” Smith said. “Especially in light of where we are today, I need to know. I need to have an answer to that question.”

FIU’s former President Mark Rosenberg resigned after a younger female staffer accused him of sexual harassment.

Funk said his firm will be asking candidates whether there’s anything in their past that — if made public — would embarrass themselves or the university and urged the search committee to do the same.

After those initial interviews, the search committee will select three or more finalists to recommend to the Board of Trustees, which will do another round of interviews. It’s up to the BOT to make their pick, who must then be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors.

The school is aiming to have the next president in place by the start of the fall 2022 semester. But officials involved in the search say the timeline remains flexible. They say their main goal is finding the best person for the job, no matter how long it takes.