House looks to shield higher education searches


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House panel on Tuesday approved a proposal that would block the public from knowing who has applied or is under consideration to be hired as presidents or provosts of state colleges or universities.

The proposal (HB 7115) drew opposition from union representatives and faculty members, who argued it was unwarranted.

A representative from Miami Dade College, which is searching for a new president, also was against the bill. But Republicans on the House Education Committee argued there is a need to keep private the identifying information of candidates to get the best pool of candidates to apply.

The bill says the public-records exemption is needed because potential candidates may fear the possibility of losing their current jobs if their applications come to light through public records requests.

The bill said there would be a "chilling effect" on the number of qualified candidates if the information is made public.

Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, which represents over 500 local labor unions, told committee members the state has not provided any compelling data to show that colleges and universities are not “bringing in the best and brightest" already.

“The burden of proof is on the Legislature, not on the people who are trying to protect public access,” Templin said.

But Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said it’s “impossible” to believe that the state's open records laws don’t have an effect on bringing in the best applicants.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, added that higher-education leadership searches should not be out in the open early in the process because applicants are not running for elected office.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, is now ready for consideration by the full House.

There is not a Senate version.