Probe into “anomalies” in search for a new FAU president hits ‘delays’

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Davie, Florida. By felixmizioznikov via iStock for WMNF News. Davie, FL, USA - January 12, 2023: Photo of the Florida Atlantic University FAU Davie West Building and sign

By Ryan Dailey ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A state investigation into “anomalies” in Florida Atlantic University’s search for a new president has been delayed because the university hired outside legal counsel, state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said Friday.

Rodrigues’ comments during a meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors were the first time he has publicly addressed the issue since he halted Florida Atlantic University’s presidential search and asked for an inspector general probe into the search process in July.

Pointing to “some delays” in the inquiry, Rodrigues said FAU and AGB Search, a firm hired by the university to assist with the search, retained legal representation in the matter.

“We are now working with AGB and FAU, through legal counsel, but nevertheless remain steadfast in completing a fair and thorough investigation,” Rodrigues told the board on Friday.

Rodrigues in July requested that the search be put on hold, after the school had narrowed down a field of applicants to three final candidates. In a letter to FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Brad Levine, who also heads the school’s Presidential Search Committee, Rodrigues cited “anomalies that have been alleged” in the search.

Rodrigues took issue with what he described as a survey conducted by AGB Search that asked search committee members to rank their preferred candidates, calling it a “straw poll” and saying that it could have run afoul of a new state law that guides higher-education presidential searches.

Rodirigues also said at the time that at least one candidate had been asked questions related to their sexual orientation and gender, though the anonymous candidate was not named in the letter.

Board of Governors Vice Chairman Eric Silagy on Friday asked Rodrigues whether the FAU search committee received information collected by the search firm, such as the results of the survey.

“That survey, you’re saying … was done, but … was done without the knowledge of FAU and the information was not provided to FAU, was that correct?” Silagy asked.

“It is correct that it (the survey) was done. It is correct that FAU has said they did not know that it was done and that they did not receive the results,” Rodrigues replied.

Silagy persisted.

“So FAU had no information,” Silagy said, “and therefore that information did not come into any bearing with regard to this selection process?”

“That is what they said,” Rodrigues said.

As the investigation by the Board of Governors’ inspector general is ongoing, members of the board on Friday also gave the greenlight to seek advice from Attorney General Ashley Moody about whether such anonymous surveys would comply with Florida’s open-government law, known as the Sunshine Law.

The board agreed to ask for Moody’s legal opinion “regarding whether a committee governed under the Sunshine Law can use a preference survey that is conducted off the record, outside of a meeting, and anonymously submitted by the committee members to a third party, in order to streamline discussions, is consistent with the requirements of the Sunshine Law.”

Board of Governors Chairman Brian Lamb said during Friday’s meeting that seeking such opinions by an attorney general is “not something we do a lot of.”

But Lamb said that “seeking clarity is key here,” adding that Moody’s opinion could help the board determine whether a regulation guiding how presidential searches are conducted should be changed.

Meanwhile, Rodrigues’ halting of the search ramped up speculation that state Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who was rumored to be a candidate but was not named a finalist, had been in the running for the job. Fine has not confirmed that he applied to be FAU’s president.

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