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Monday, October 02, 2023

Machen accused of racism, homophobia in UF law dean search

An anonymous letter names homophobia and racism as factors in UF President Bernie Machen’s controversial decision to end the search for a new Levin College of Law dean.

The letter was addressed to Machen, Provost Joe Glover, Director of Employee Relations Kim Czaplewski, Gainesville Sun reporter Jeff Schweers and the Alligator. It states “the students and faculty are very upset about the continued perception of racism and homophobia at the College of Law.”

Although the letter was unsigned, some faculty, staff and students have expressed similar sentiments.

In a private meeting for faculty and staff on Tuesday, Machen addressed concerns about diversity in the dean search.

The finalists from the search were black University of Kentucky College of Law dean David Brennen, openly gay former U.S. ambassador David Huebner and Georgia State University College of Law professor Samuel Donaldson.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said Machen responded to outside views that his decision not to select any of the deans “might be seen as a racist or homophobic.”

“He made his decision based on that he did not believe that the transformative leader was in the pool of candidates,” she said.

For Matthew Christ, a 24-year-old second-year UF law student, the three candidates met Machen’s qualifications for a transformative dean. Christ said Machen should have a meeting with students and explain his definition of “transformative.”

“What is transformative if both of these candidates transformed the institutions they’ve been involved with?” he said.

By not selecting a dean, Machen will have to temporarily place an interim dean once current dean Bob Jerry leaves his post in June.

Machen has proposed UF law professor George Dawson as interim dean.

Jeffrey Harrison, a UF law professor, said faculty members feel Machen did not consider diversity the defining factor in his decision-making.

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“I just think he honestly believed these three candidates were not what we needed regardless of diversity,” Harrison said.

After paying a Los Angeles firm $90,000 to narrow down applications to a pool of 24 candidates, three were left for Machen and the Provost to chose from.

Darren Hutchinson, a UF law professor, wrote in an email that Machen’s decision to not select one of the more diverse candidates in the search will stunt the growth of the law school.

“President Machen gave up a perfect opportunity to move the University of Florida beyond its history of racism and homophobia,” Hutchinson said. “Most of the highly regarded public law schools have hired women or minority deans. Doing so signals openness and growth. Rejecting talented and overwhelmingly favorable candidates who could expand diversity signals stagnation and exclusion.”

In the near future, another search will be held to find the new dean.

But with Machen soon to leave his position as president, law professor Pedro Malavet said he is hoping Machen does not stick around for the second search.

“We sent him a list of three candidates, and he chose to completely ignore us,” he said. “He decided to not consider them at all, and in process of that rejection, he sent a message that we as an institution are not prepared for diversity.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/20/2014 under the headline "Machen accused of dean-search racism, homophobia"]

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