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Levine resigns as chair of FAU Board after vote of no confidence over presidential search 'mess'

A Florida Atlantic University sign on its campus.
Alex Dolce
/
Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University

The head of the board of Florida Atlantic University has voluntarily resigned his position as chair — saying criticisms of his leadership have become a distraction as the school tries to find a new permanent president.

Outgoing Chair Brad Levine made the announcement during the FAU Board of Trustees meeting Thursday morning, saying it was in the best interests of the university for him to step aside.

“The university is poised to select a permanent president, a search that has been arduous and now must commence anew. Unfortunately, I have personally become a part of this narrative. The selection of an experienced and visionary leader deserves no such distractions,” Levine said.

“It has been a genuine honor to have served as chairman of this board with colleagues of your caliber.”

READ MORE: State officials order FAU to restart its presidential search

While Levine has bowed out as chair, he says he will remain a member of the board. He was first appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2018 and reappointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2023.

In Levine’s place, the Board of Trustees voted to name Piero Bussani as the group’s next chair. Bussani was first appointed to the board in 2022 by DeSantis. His nomination as chair was approved unanimously.

“It’s an enormous honor. One of the greatest honors of my career to be chairman of Florida Atlantic University,” Bussani said. “This is a great university. It has done great things. And I'm so excited to continue to move this school forward.”

Bussani has made a career guiding corporations on issues where law and business intersect, according to his university bio. Multiple board members praised his leadership and demeanor, saying he could rely on the support of faculty and state officials.

“In the amount of time that I have served on this board and served with Trustee Bussani, he has demonstrated the utmost integrity and commitment to the institution in very difficult times,” said Kimberly Dunn, who is a trustee and the president of FAU’s Faculty Senate.

“On behalf of the faculty, I feel very confident in supporting Trustee Bussani.”

Levine resigns following no confidence vote by state officials

Levine’s resignation came weeks after the state board overseeing Florida’s public universities — the Board of Governors — issued a no confidence vote in his leadership overseeing the stalled search for FAU’s new president.

The search has been roiled by controversy and remains stalled, after state officials raised concerns about “anomalies” in the process last summer.

Levine had chaired the school’s presidential search committee, which a state investigator general found violated Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law and some state regulations.

State officials voiced concerns about the search after DeSantis’ apparent pick for the job — Republican State Rep. Randy Fine — was not named as a finalist.

“The FAU search is a mess. And that’s a reflection of us, and it’s a reflection of them,” Board of Governors member Craig Mateer said at the January meeting. “I personally believe that Chair Levine should resign.”

On Thursday, Levine did just that. Still, other board members, university donors and some students praised Levine for his leadership on the board.

“You have shown a selfless dedication to the institution. And doing so here today at painful personal expense,” said William Trapani, a communications professor at FAU. Trapani has been a frequent critic of what he sees as political interference in the presidential search process.

“I just want to say thank you,” Trapani told Levine. “This university owes you a great debt of gratitude.”

Board extends interim president’s contract — again

Also on Thursday, the FAU board voted to extend its employment deal with the interim president for another year — again.

The do-over vote came after outgoing chair Levine acknowledged that Dr. Stacy Volnick didn’t have a formal contract from the university, just a “summary termsheet” outlining her employment.

Volnick has led FAU since Jan. 1, 2023, taking on the role as the school looks for a permanent successor to former President John Kelly.

As the delayed search drags on, FAU’s Board of Trustees opted in November to ink a deal with Volnick to keep her on the job for another year or until a new permanent president is named.

But at a January meeting of the Board of Governors, state officials took issue with the document drafted to extend Volnick’s employment — saying it wasn’t actually a formal contract.

“There is no contract,” outgoing Chair Brad Levine told the BOG. “We only have the summary termsheets that had been approved at the previous Board of Governors meeting. And that was what was provided.”

Board of Governors Chair Brian Lamb directed the university to “fix it.”

“We just fix it, ok? And we fix it fast,” Lamb said at the January meeting. “Because I think you deserve that, President Volnick.”

On Thursday, the FAU board did just that, voting to approve an “Interim President Employment Agreement” that is “in a form requested by the Board of Governors."

The Board of Governors still has to take a final vote on Volnick’s contract, which is expected to be simply a matter of procedure. Volnick has won widespread support from FAU faculty, donors, trustees and state officials. BOG Chair Brian Lamb raved about her leadership during the meeting in January.

“I want to be super clear and just cut through the noise,” Lamb told Volnick. “I think you’ve done a fantastic job.”

That praise for Volnick was echoed at Thursday’s meeting of FAU’s Board of Trustees.

“My time at this university has been truly remarkable. FAU has given me countless opportunities to grow in my professional career through student government, internships and the diplomacy program to name a few,” said Emma Solorzano, a senior at FAU.

“I truly love this university and I know that it is in safe hands under [Volnick’s] leadership.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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