The Alligator staff has continually prepared for a change in UF presidency since the time President Kent Fuchs announced his resignation on January 5. We have worked diligently to educate community members about the presidential search process – one that has encountered more challenges than before.
However, despite three semesters of reporting by our diligent staff, the announcement of Senator Ben Sasse as the sole presidential finalist came as a shock to The Alligator.
Shock quickly turned to outrage – culminating with the scene at Emerson Alumni Hall on October 10 that made national headlines.
As protesters forced their way into Emerson Hall — effectively interrupting Sasse’s first public appearance on campus — UF officials were forced to wonder why this protest happened and how it could have been prevented. .
At The Alligator, we believe the root of this anger lies in the state’s fundamentally flawed presidential selection process.
Florida Senate Bill 520 has largely transformed state universities’ presidential search processes. In effect since March 15, it provides college presidential candidates with near-impermeable shields of anonymity by keeping certain early details hidden from the public, including the identities of the candidates.
In theory, the SB 520 appears to be practical: it allows notable academic leaders to be considered for presidential roles at other educational institutions, which simultaneously makes it easier for them to avoid public scrutiny. they don’t get those roles.
In practice, however, the law has transformed the Florida university system’s presidential search process into something almost unrecognizable. SB 520 is a huge departure from Florida’s transparency laws, lauded for its above-average access to public records brought about by the state’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
Lack of transparency creates universities like UF for controversy, such as when only one candidate is selected as a finalist from a pool of over 700.
That’s not to say UF didn’t originally have more finalists. State law gave insurmountable leverage to the university’s other 11 applicants who refused to go to campus unless they were named sole finalists.
We believe that the appointment of a Unique runner-up in UF presidential research reflects a major flaw in the implementation of SB 520. But don’t take that from us — take it from Jeff Brandes, the state senator who helped shape it.
The goal was to get a group of finalists, not to announce a single finalist, Brandes told the Tampa Bay Times. UF’s selection of Sasse was the wrong way to go about the search, Brandes said, and makes it harder for the law not to undergo changes in the next legislative session.
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Whether you agree with the senator’s convictions, it must be recognized that the process that led to his selection had certain weaknesses.
How could the students have planned a calmer response to Sasse’s consideration if they were only told once a other finalist had been dropped?
Likewise, how could the UF administration have prepared for the student response if the community had not had the opportunity to follow the process?
Many of these questions remain unanswered due to continued silence – now from Sasse.
Sasse had no media availability throughout the presidential search process. He has remained discreet in his communication with the press, which includes The Alligator. Thanks to continued silence, our coverage doesn’t provide all the details our community desperately needs.
This lack of transparency was only exacerbated by Sasse’s role as a politician.
Rahul Patel, chairman of the presidential search committee, told The Alligator Sasse it was an “academic first”. If that were true, Sasse wouldn’t have spent the past seven years as a senator — a position he’s held longer than his position as president at Midland University.
For a university that has been criticized in recent years for being a political pawn of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the choice is a bad look at best. The university continues to get bad press, and in Sasse’s case, the Alligator editorial board thinks it could have been avoided.
The mainstream media aren’t content to highlight Sasse’s recent nomination because of the outrage it sparked among a large number of UF students. They do it because it exposed the cracks beneath the surface of the university’s presidential selection process.
If you felt caught off guard by Sasse’s announcement as a finalist, so have we. Despite the difficulties it has caused, we will continue to be transparent throughout our reporting process – whether UF and the state university system choose to do the same.
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