An investigation into the Florida Atlantic University’s presidential search has been delayed as a result of FAU and a search firm lawyering up, the State University System chancellor said Friday.
The comments, which FAU has disputed, are Chancellor Ray Rodigues’ first since he abruptly halted FAU’s search two months ago due to “anomalies.” He spoke Friday during a virtual meeting of the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities.
During that same meeting, the board approved a request by Chairman Brian Lamb to seek an opinion from Attorney General Ashley Moody on whether FAU’s method of narrowing candidates fully complied with state law.
The suspension of the search, as well as the investigation, have been controversial, as many FAU supporters have alleged the state got involved because FAU’s three announced finalists didn’t include State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Beach, who was Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick for the job.
Rodrigues has directed Julie Leftheris, inspector general for the Board of Governors, to conduct the review.
“As we have begun the investigation, there have been some delays because both AGB search firm and FAU have retained outside counsel,” Rodrigues said Friday. “We are now working with AGB and FAU through legal counsel but remain steadfast in completing a fair and thorough investigation.”
FAU has hired Eric Isicoff, a partner with the Miami law firm Isicoff Ragatz.
“The University, including our outside counsel, has cooperated fully with the inspector general and to our knowledge has not delayed the investigation in any way,” FAU spokeswoman Lisa Metcalf told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Rodrigues acknowledged in the meeting that FAU officials “have been fully cooperative, and we appreciate the level of professionalism they are offering as we go through this process.”
He also said the inspector general and her team “have been working diligently to conduct their investigation, and I trust that we will soon have a comprehensive audit report of the facts and findings that will then guide our next steps.”
It’s unclear when the investigation will conclude and whether the Board of Governors must wait on a response from Moody.
A spokeswoman for Moody would not comment on the request, saying the office hadn’t received it yet.
The issue referred to Moody involves whether FAU complied with the state Sunshine Law, which governs opening meetings, when it narrowed the initial list of almost 60 applications to about 20. The meeting was legally required to be held behind closed doors, but state law still requires actions to be fully recorded, Rodrigues has argued.
FAU search committee members told a search firm consultant their top picks, but those votes were not shared with other committee members. Search committee members were aware how others voted when semifinalists and finalists were selected.
“This practice appears questionable in light of the application of the statute governing shade meetings, and the Sunshine Law,” Rodrigues said during the meeting.
The other issue of concern involved AGB Search’s use of a survey that asked questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. FAU and AGB officials said the anonymous survey was used only for AGB’s internal use and the results were not shared with the university.
When questioned, Rodrigues would not say whether he believed FAU was unaware of the diversity survey.
“You’re saying that survey was done, but was done without the knowledge of FAU and the information was not provided to FAU, is that correct?” Board of Governors Vice Chairman Eric Silagy asked Rodrigues.
“It’s correct that it was done and it’s correct that FAU has said they did not receive it and did not know it was done and that they did not receive the results,” Rodrigues responded.
“So FAU had no information and therefore that information did not come into any bearing with regards to the selection process?” Silagy asked.
“That is what they said,” Rodrigues replied.
When Silagy asked if, Rodrigues had any information contradicting that, the chancellor said, “We haven’t concluded the investigation.”