A member of Florida State University’s presidential search committee doesn’t think the candidate interview and selection process was above board.
In an email sent to State University System Chancellor Marshall M. Criser III, Committee member Craig Mateer said multiple committee votes were held by secret ballot and he believes the candidate interviews were coordinated theatre.
“We were told we could not talk to the candidates. I asked specifically to do that before the formal interviews and was told that couldn’t occur. In addition, the questions we were to ask the interviewees were drafted in advance and given to us without our input (and we weren’t allowed to keep the questions and they were collected on Saturday from us),” he wrote. “Even so, one candidate read most of his answers to the questions, making it clear that he, alone, had been given the questions in advance.”
The university denies this characterization and sent the following statement to Florida Politics: “Every meeting of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee has been open to the public. The many hours of open meetings ultimately led to an outstanding pool of candidates. At its final meeting, the search committee debated the candidates for more than an hour before deciding by a majority vote to advance three finalists to the Board of Trustees. This has been a transparent process from the start, and we look forward to the Board of Trustees’ selection of one of these finalists to become FSU’s 16th president.”
But Mateer said the committee — with no input from himself — appeared to have their mind made up before a May 15 meeting where three candidates were advanced out of a pool of nine.
“I suspect that knowing the votes in advance, you could see that nominating three traditional candidates and limiting the field to four total candidates would cause the inability for a non-traditional and diverse slate of candidates to be given to the Board of Trustees for consideration,” he wrote.
“Finally, and most important, within 3 minutes of the beginning of the May 15th meeting, the search firm reported that ‘based on discussions with all of you’ we had decided on the top three candidates.”
Though not mentioned by name, the reference to “non-traditional and diverse” candidates relates to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, whose candidacy was cut after first-round interviews.
Board of Governors member Alan Levine has alleged the search committee was subject to “undue influence” from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the body that accredits FSU.
SACSCOC President Dr. Belle Wheelan said in a letter to Board of Governors Chair Syd Kitson earlier this month that Corcoran’s consideration for the job presented a potential conflict of interest and implied that if Corcoran remained a candidate without giving up his seat on the board, FSU could lose accreditation.
Corcoran also alleged the deck was stacked against him during his interview.
Levine has since called on the Board of Governors to halt the search process while the search committee’s actions are investigated.
Mateer stressed in his email “that the three candidates who are presently under consideration for the presidency of FSU are very good candidates” and that he doesn’t “have an interest in harming them in any way.”
The concerns, he said, are with the methods the committee used to determine their final picks, not with the picks themselves. Still, a restart would likely see the committee take a closer look at Corcoran in their search to replace exiting FSU President John Thrasher.
As it stands, the finalists for the job are University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill executive Vice chancellor and Provost Robert Blouin, Harvard University Vice President for Research Richard McCullough and Tulane University Vice President for Research Giovanni Piedimonte. All three candidates held question and answer sessions with faculty and students this week.