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Saturday, May 27, 2023

Florida State House introduces bill to restrict university records

A new bill in the Florida House of Representatives could make public records of university presidents difficult to get.

The bill, HB 7115, is titled “Public Records and Meeting/Postsecondary Education Executive Search.” If passed, it will allow public universities in Florida to be exempt from sharing the names and select information about applicants for university presidents or provosts, according to the file record.

The bill would also exempt portions of meetings between the applicant and the university in which the applicant is identified, the record said.

Though the bill ensures the names of finalists must still be made public at least 30 days before the final vote, the names of the applicants not chosen would no longer be public record.

Those concerned about the bill worry it will give the public less input into the presidential selection process, said Frank LoMonte, the director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, which is located in UF’s College of Journalism and Communications and works to promote and educate others on freedom of information laws and policies.

“If the searches are done entirely behind closed doors, nobody but the trustees gets a voice,” LoMonte said.

Choosing the presidents in a closed process helps private executive search consultants who are increasingly the dominant voice in the selection process, he said.

Universities can spend upward of $100,000 for these search consultants to bring them candidates and to advise them on who to pick, LoMonte said.

Since Monday, the bill has been in education committee. The bill was crafted by the State Affairs Committee and had 16 votes in favor and five against.

State House Representative Chuck Clemons (R - District 21) was one of the voters in favor of the bill.

Clemons said he supports the bill because it will help prevent applicants who were dropped from potential negative career impacts.

“I believe in open government, but if there’s 100 people that apply for the university’s president’s job, the public is really more interested in the ones that make the finals,” he said. “Why would you expose those other people who didn’t have a chance?”

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If passed by the Florida legislature, the bill will be effective July 1.

UF is not planning to make a statement on the bill, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said.

Staff writer Mikayla Carroll contributed to this report.

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