As the suspension of FAU's presidential search continues, support grows for interim president
TALLAHASSEE — As Florida Atlantic University waits for its stalled presidential search to resume amid a state investigation into “anomalies” in the process, support is growing for Interim President Stacy Volnick to be offered the job on a permanent basis.
The FAU Faculty Senate this month decided to ask the school’s Board of Trustees to consider exploring the idea of installing Volnick, who was named interim president in September 2022, in the permanent job. Kim Dunn, an FAU professor and member of the trustees who also is chairwoman of the Faculty Senate, delivered the proposal to trustees Tuesday.
“The motion made by the faculty does not presuppose the outcome of the (state university system) Board of Governors’ investigation, nor does this motion cast doubt on the presidential search process or the finalists that were named,” Dunn said.
The search was halted in July at the direction of state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, who alleged that members of the FAU Presidential Search Committee improperly participated in what Rodrigues called a “straw poll” to rank preferred candidates. Rodrigues also alleged that at least one candidate for the job had been asked questions about their sexual orientation and gender. The chancellor subsequently called for an investigation.
Dunn said the suspended search has hurt the school’s reputation and is hampering efforts to fill other high-level positions.
“The sentiment is that the uncertainty and negative press associated with the prolonged search is detrimental to our university. It is hurting our image and our ability to advance our core mission. One area of particular concern is our inability to fill the many interim vice president and other leadership positions without a named president,” Dunn said.
Dunn asked the board to “explore with the Board of Governors” whether “an adjustment could be made” to the presidential-selection process to allow the trustees to consider offering a multi-year contract to Volnick to lead the school.
Volnick holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FAU and has worked at the university since 1991. She served as FAU’s chief operating officer and vice president for administrative affairs before accepting the interim president position.
Trustees Chairman Brad Levine said the request was “reasonable” but did not indicate whether the trustees would pursue it.
“I hear what you’re asking, and I think exploring is a reasonable thing,” Levine said.
Dunn said members of the Faculty Senate from “a wide range of colleges” were supportive of Volnick “and the job she is doing in leading and stabilizing the university.”
She also pointed to letters of support for Volnick during the presidential search “from a variety of constituents, including some of our largest donors.”
Maurice Plough, who serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board for FAU’s College of Arts and Letters, voiced support during Tuesday’s meeting for Volnick taking the permanent post.
Also, Howard Weiner, who the university has described as a longtime benefactor of the school, reinforced the idea that Volnick is the right person for the job.
“The faculty has endorsed Dr. Stacy Volnick to be given a stabilizing contract. I am one of many who supports this recommendation,” Weiner said.
Earlier in his comments, Weiner described the university as a “rudderless ship” and said donors are withholding funds amid the holdup of the presidential search.
“FAU is presently at a critical crossroads. The ongoing delay in choosing the next FAU president has placed it in peril from without and within. We all know persons in leadership positions who have left, and many more who are planning or considering to leave the university. This scenario will lead to a devastating implosion, one that may take many years from which to recover,” Weiner said.
The halted search, however, did not appear likely to resume quickly when the subject was brought up during a Sept. 8 meeting of the system’s Board of Governors.
Rodrigues during the meeting pointed to “some delays” in the investigation, which is being led by the Board of Governors’ inspector general. The delays were brought on by the university and a search firm hiring legal counsel, according to Rodrigues.
Rodrigues said the Board of Governors was “steadfast in completing a fair and thorough investigation.”