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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Presidential search continues, graduate students wary

The Student Body President is the only student on the Search Advisory Committee

A mostly deserted evening along Newell Drive at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus on Tuesday, July 22, 2021. The upcoming fall semester will see tens of thousands of students return to Gainesville, although an increase in the number of delta variant COVID-19 infections raises concerns about viral spread among unvaccinated people.
A mostly deserted evening along Newell Drive at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus on Tuesday, July 22, 2021. The upcoming fall semester will see tens of thousands of students return to Gainesville, although an increase in the number of delta variant COVID-19 infections raises concerns about viral spread among unvaccinated people.

The search for UF’s next president has begun, and graduate students remain frustrated they are not represented on the Presidential Search committee.

UF students and faculty received an email from the university detailing the search Tuesday. The Search Advisory Committee will host an open forum meeting May 10 to discuss questions and concerns. Some students are already unsatisfied. 

Paul Wassel, president of the Graduate Student Council and UF PhD student in the genetics and genomic program, disagrees with the current structure of the committee and was disappointed graduate students weren’t represented. 

He wants a student on the panel who understands graduate students’ experiences. Student Body President Lauren Lemasters is the only student on the presidential search committee. She finished her undergraduate education in Spring and has begun pursuing a masters degree this Summer. 

“One student representing 50,000 students on one of the most important searches the university has seen since we hired President Fuchs is kind of shocking, to be honest,” Wassel said. 

The Presidential Search Committee for UF’s 12th president, which resulted in President Kent Fuchs’ appointment, had similar representation. Christina Bonariggo, a former UF student body president, represented students on the committee. 

Wassel thinks it will be hard for Lemasters to provide a graduate student perspective with only undergraduate experience, he said. 

“I work in a lab, I make a salary, I'm paid by the University and I'm not even taking classes anymore,” Wassel said. “So my priorities are very different than an undergraduate student who's living on loans maybe and who doesn't have a family.”

Other than underrepresentation in decision-making bodies at the university, graduate students have faced unpaid wages, unsustainable stipends and exclusion from decision-making concerning graduate housing.   

Bryn Taylor, the communications chair for Graduate Assistants United and a third-year PhD rehabilitation science student, said GAU expressed concerns about representation before the presidential search committee was chosen.

Graduate students are vital to research, she said. The university spent a record $960 million in 2021 on research.

Rachel Hartnett, the co-president of GAU, sent a letter to the Board of Trustees April 18 demanding it appoints a graduate student. 

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“We deserve a seat at the table,” she wrote. 

The university directed GAU to voice their concerns during Tuesday’s 45-minute listening session, Taylor said. 

“We are committed to a process that is inclusive and reflects input from across the Gator Nation,” Rahul Patel, the chair of the Presidential Search Committee, wrote in an email.

The search committee requires that there be one student on the committee, and Lemasters represents the interests of all students including graduate students, Patel wrote. 

Patel noted that Nicole Stedman, the Dean of the Graduate School, spoke at the last board of trustees meeting and said that the graduate student perspective would be represented in the search process. 

The purpose of the listening session is to allow students and faculty to comment on the qualifications and personal attributes the university is looking for in its next president, Patel wrote. 

Depending on that input, the board of trustees will prepare a position profile and recruiting materials. The listening sessions will be an important part of that process, Patel wrote.

“Forty-five minutes isn't really enough for 16,000 graduate students,” Taylor said.   

GAU wants the university’s next president to be interested in open communication about the administration’s goals and decisions.

Presidential candidates’ identities will be kept out of public records for the majority of the search. Senate Bill 520 and House Bill 703 shield students and faculty from meeting with finalists until 21 days before the next president is chosen. 

For now, both Taylor and Wassel encourage students to attend upcoming listening sessions to voice concerns.

Xaria Arthur, a 19-year-old English sophomore, said it’s important for the future president to have values that take more than one group of students into account.

As a Black woman, Arthur wants a president who will make her and other minority students be seen and heard. 

“It’s important to me that the president has in mind the needs of everyone … UF has been looking into more diversity overall,” she said. 

Significant progress happens at leadership positions, so it’s important for the president to value the voices of a diverse group of students, Arthur said. 

The Search Advisory Committee meeting will take place on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. via Zoom.

Contact Anushka Dakshit at adakshit@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @anushkdak.

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Anushka Dakshit

Anushka a third-year journalism and women’s studies major. She has been previously published in Local Wolves Magazine and is the Editorial Director at Rowdy Magazine. In her free time she likes to listen to old Bollywood music and learn about/obsess over other writers’ “processes” whenever she feels like she has no idea what she’s doing (which is often). 


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