Florida Atlantic University's Presidential Search Saga: Stalled Process, Political Intrigues, and the Road Ahead


Thirteen months since the initiation of Florida Atlantic University's quest for a new president, the institution finds itself embroiled in controversy, with the search process marred by allegations of procedural improprieties and political interference.

The fallout from this prolonged and contentious journey has now led to the resignation of FAU Board of Trustees Chair, Brad Levine, as criticism from state officials reached a crescendo. Examining the intricacies of this unfolding drama unveils a complex narrative encompassing procedural issues, political maneuvering, and lingering questions about the university's leadership.

Florida Atlantic University's Presidential Search Saga: A Stalled Process, Political Intrigues, and the Road Ahead
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A Suspended Search and Political Undercurrents

Launched in January 2023, the presidential search at FAU hit a roadblock six months later when state officials suspended the process, citing "anomalies" related to the search committee's use of a straw poll. The committee anonymously ranked candidates, trimming the pool from 60 to 20 before identifying three finalists. Attorney General Ashley Moody later determined that the committee violated the state's Sunshine Law by anonymously communicating preferences to the search firm. Yet, some suspect the search's failure may be linked to the board's rejection of conservative lawmaker Randy Fine, reportedly encouraged to apply by Governor Ron DeSantis.

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Leadership Resignation Amidst Controversy

Brad Levine, the FAU Board of Trustees Chair, faced withering criticism from the State University System of Florida and the Board of Governors. Levine defended the search process, clashing with fellow trustee Barbara Feingold, who questioned the qualifications of finalists and had donated to Fine's campaign. Levine's resignation, announced at a recent board meeting, followed a vote of no confidence from the Board of Governors. Despite lacking confidence from state officials, Levine garnered support from the FAU community, with various constituents expressing gratitude for his service.

Procedural Quandaries and Unanswered Questions

The controversy surrounding Levine extended beyond political disagreements to procedural issues. His request for a contract extension for interim president Stacy Volnick faced criticism for lacking an employment contract. The Board of Governors accused FAU of potential open meetings law violations, further complicating the extension approval process. While Levine contended that FAU had provided the necessary documents, the Board of Governors disagreed, leading to a vote of no confidence. As FAU moves forward, questions linger about the timeline for a new search and the potential influence of political figures like Randy Fine.

The Shadow of Randy Fine and Future Uncertainties

Randy Fine's failed bid for the FAU presidency continues to cast a shadow over the institution's leadership crisis. Fine, claiming Governor DeSantis assured him of an easy appointment, found himself unsupported by the community. Despite assertions of political interference, state officials dismissed claims of directed pressure on the university's selection process. As the FAU community debates the extent of political influence and questions persist about Fine's promised appointment, the university remains in limbo, awaiting guidance from the Florida Board of Governors.

The saga of Florida Atlantic University's prolonged presidential search underscores the intricate interplay between procedural integrity, political dynamics, and community expectations. With the resignation of Brad Levine, the university faces the challenge of rebuilding trust and charting a clearer path forward. As the Board of Governors prepares to provide guidance, the FAU community, along with stakeholders across the state, watches with anticipation, hoping for a resolution that prioritizes academic excellence and transparent leadership. The next steps FAU takes will not only shape its immediate future but also serve as a case study for navigating the delicate balance between academia and politics in higher education.

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