Education, UCF

Rushing a Presidential Search

Tuesday, 10th March 2020

Well, it’s a good thing that Vistasp Karbhari pulled out of the presidential search for UCF. He’s now also resigned from his current post as president of the University of Texas at Arlington.

I don’t know anything about the situation in Texas other than the news reports, but it raises the question of how someone like this could end up as one of the final three candidates in the presidential search at UCF. Was there just no vetting done at all? Or did the committee know all along that he wasn’t going to be the final candidate, but wanted to make the search look good from a diversity point of view? We do, after all, have a designated diversity officer on every search committee. This is the UCF solution – make more work for the relatively small number of minority faculty at UCF by having them be on all the search committees. And, have one diversity category stand in for all of them, or at least all the ones we care about.

Anyway, I digress. This search is being shoved through with unseemly haste – the committee is reconvening to consider other candidates currently in the pool. Here’s the email that went out:

“The Presidential Search Committee will hold its next meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, March 16, at the Fairwinds Alumni Center. At that meeting, the committee will review additional information on the two remaining finalists, reconsider candidates currently in the pool, and consider any new candidates who may apply.

Finalists will then have their first interview with the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, March 17, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center. These interviews will be livestreamed. Finalists will stay on campus next week for visits and open forums, and the campus community will have the opportunity to provide feedback on each of the finalists. We will send details about these visits, including the times and locations of the open forums, later this week.

The Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the selection of the president on Friday. March 20, after interviewing each of the finalists a second time. That meeting currently is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center and will be livestreamed.”

So, 10 days from today they will already have made a decision, and today they don’t even have a full short list of candidates. What’s the rush? Are we really considering these candidates carefully? Or do they already know who they want, that candidate is still in the pool, and the rest is just a formality? There’s a strong sense by many here that that’s how significant searches work (and I’ve seen first-hand evidence of that myself).

All of this raises the question: if there is an existing preferred candidate, why is he preferred? There’s relatively little faculty presence on this committee – one senior research professor (from my college as it happens) and one associate professor who is from the medical college and is the chair of the faculty senate. That’s not much, and it means that we’re not likely to get a straight answer about the real agenda of this committee.

We have all sorts of scandal at UCF right now, and lots of interim and acting positions. Trust in the upper administration is very low, both inside UCF and outside. Botching this search does nothing to help that trust. If we were hoping for someone to come in and have a clear academic vision, and bring people together with a common purpose, this is not the way to do it. Even the best person, chosen under these conditions, will come in under a cloud.

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