Board of Governors member Alan Levine is no longer “concerned” that an accrediting body may have influenced the Florida State University presidential search. He’s convinced. And he wants the job search put on hold until it’s cleared up.
At issue is a letter sent by the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges — the association that accredits FSU — to the Board of Governors raising questions over Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s candidacy.
In the letter, SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan said it was improper for Corcoran to seek the job while holding a seat on the Board of Governors. She also commented on Corcoran’s fitness for the position and insinuated FSU’s accreditation would be on the line if his application advanced.
Levine on Sunday sent a letter to Board of Governors Chancellor Marshall Criser III saying he was worried the letter may have led the presidential search committee to nix Corcoran’s application and said Wheelan based the allegations on a surface level view of the situation.
In a Tuesday follow up, he pointed to a provision in the SACSCOC Principles of Accreditation that states governing boards are charged with protecting universities “from undue influence by external persons or bodies.”
Levine argues that, in this case, it is the Board of Governor’s duty to protect FSU from SACSCOC influence.
“We have a clear obligation under the standards to protect Florida State University from undue influence by external persons OR BODIES (emphasis mine),” he wrote. “The letter from Dr. Wheelan is a clear effort to influence our search process — a process proven and true, and which has led to the hiring of the majority of our Presidents.”
Levine credited the process in place for leading the University of Florida to a near top-5 academic ranking, and FSU to a top-20 ranking and noted that it “was made with a combination of presidents with academic backgrounds as well as non-traditional backgrounds.”
Corcoran is viewed as a non-traditional applicant because of his career in politics and his lack of a terminal degree — he holds a law degree from Regent University. However, the same criticisms were levied at current FSU President John Thrasher before he was hired.
“It is clear to me that this process has been impacted, unduly, by SACSCOC, which I firmly believe is in violation of their own principles. Attempting to influence an ongoing search, and undermining the governance of a major university, is a serious matter,” Levine wrote.
“At this point, I firmly believe the process either needs to be halted, and the board discuss how to proceed, or I will be unable to vote for any of the current candidates due to the integrity of the process being undermined by SACSCOC.
“This violation of their own accreditation standards, by itself, is problematic. But our forceful pushback against their intrusion is required if we are to be in compliance with their standards. Clearly, we have a responsibility to ‘protect’ Florida State University from ‘undue influence by external bodies.’ This is a pretty clear effort to influence a search by an external body,” he concludes.
Assuming the FSU presidential search is not halted, the job will go to one of three finalists the search committee advanced over the weekend: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert Blouin, Harvard University Vice President for Research Richard McCullough or Tulane University Vice President for Research Giovanni Piedimonte.