State’s higher ed presidential candidates names to remain secret until finalist stage

The law is one of a number of new exemptions to the state's public records law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday that will grant anonymity to those applying for the top jobs at the state’s universities and colleges.

The bill (SB 520) signed into law Tuesday means the public won’t know who’s applying for presidential positions at the state’s higher education institutions until the search is almost over. It’s one of many new exemptions to the state’s broad Sunshine Law that won approval in the 2022 Legislature. But this exemption was one of the more hard-fought, with most Democrats arguing against it.

It has been proposed numerous times over the last decade, with proponents saying that it will mean people who don’t want their name exposed will feel more comfortable applying for these prestigious positions, thus attracting a bigger pool of candidates.

“This is going to create a better process for the state,” the sponsor of the bill, Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said in committee.

The issue became more urgent as the University of Florida’s President Kent Fuchs recently announced he’ll be stepping down from his position. Other institutions that are or are expected to be looking for presidents soon are Florida International University, the University of South Florida, the University of North Florida and the Florida Gulf Coast University, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Most Democrats fear that it will create more backroom politics at the state’s higher education institutions, where, they say, there has already been too much of it. The First Amendment Foundation, an open-government advocacy group based in Tallahassee, also opposed it.

Having the names of the presidential finalists publicly known just 21 days before the decision is made shuts out these institutions’ constituencies that reach much further than the halls of each university and college, said Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat.

“Our universities are such key institutions in our communities — to shut out an entire community of people from that process is not right,” Diamond said, pointing out that these positions are among the most high-profile and highly paid among public positions. “How can you evaluate a leader if you aren’t seeing them interact with people through the whole search process?”

Politics at the state’s higher education institutions have become more controversial recently. Some professors were barred from testifying against the state’s position on issues such as voting rights and mask mandates. Other legislation (SB 7044) passed this session means that tenured faculty would face a “comprehensive review,” of the state Board of Governors’ design.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Needed more than talk

    March 16, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    If Ds had stuck together this records exemption would not have become law.

Comments are closed.


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