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UF leaders seek distinguished academic to be president after Fuchs – Gainesville Sun

Kent Fuchs is prepared for this to be his last semester as University of Florida president. As the campus waits for his successor to be named within the next few months, some faculty have expressed concern about political interference in the hiring process.
UF board of trustees Chair Morteza “Mori” Hosseini sought to dismiss these concerns at a recent appearance before faculty. He said he has seen other presidential searches get political, but he doesn’t expect that to happen at UF.
“Not one person in the state of Florida has approached me for the job — no one — because they know we are looking for the very best for the University of Florida and what we’re looking for, I don’t think we can find in the state,” Hosseini said Thursday at a UF Faculty Senate meeting that included Fuchs’ last State of the University address.
In September, UF’s 14-member presidential search committee is expected to have a list of semi-finalists and conduct candidate interviews, according to a timeline on the committee’s website. From October to November, finalists are expected to visit campus to participate in public forums and interviews before the board of trustees votes to approve the choice for the next president.
In a phone interview with Rahul Patel, a UF trustee who chairs the search committee, he said there have been conversations with hundreds of candidates for the position. 
“There have been leaders in higher education, including many sitting presidents of top schools, and others well respected in academia, who have expressed serious interest in the position,” Patel said.
Fuchs, 67, was provost of Cornell University before he was hired as UF president and started in January 2015. He said some current candidates have reached out to him inquiring about the position.
“I’m really excited that the university is going to choose someone within a few months that I believe will be an amazing leader and obviously, that’s important to me, because I believe the very best years for the university are over the next five to 10 years. The opportunities are stunning,” he said. 
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UF has conducted 17 listening sessions with students and faculty about the qualities they would like to see in the next president. Among those qualities are someone with a renowned academic background. 
However, there has been concerns among faculty members that a politician will be named to the job. Questions about political interference have hung over UF since it was revealed last fall that faculty were barred from testifying in court against policies backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
DeSantis is responsible for most of the appointments to the UF board of trustees, which must approve the hiring.
Patel said the focus is on hiring “an accomplished educator of national stature, with recognized scholarly success to continue to advance the academic reputation of the University of Florida.”
Fuchs announced he will be stepping down as president in January. UF subsequently named a 14-member search committee of eight men and six women, drawn from among trustees, faculty, administrators, alumni and an undergraduate student.
The group’s work has included conducting listening sessions and developing qualifications for the job.
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But much of the process of finding UF’s new president is happening behind closed doors. A new Florida law, SB 520, requires the names of applicants for UF president to remain secret until the finalists are selected. The names of finalists are supposed to be released publicly three weeks before they are interviewed.
Even before the law, UF’s presidential searches were shrouded in secrecy. In Fuchs’ case, he formally applied for the job, was named a finalist and was hired over the course of just five days in 2014. The Sun revealed that UF booked out-of-town hotel rooms under false names months earlier and took other steps to hide interviews with Fuchs and additional candidates from the public. 
Fuchs’ tenure has included UF achieving long-sought goals such as surpassing $1 billion in research spending and being named among the nation’s top-five public universities.  
After the new president starts, Fuchs will be stepping into a role as a professor within the electrical and computer engineering department. He said he will encourage the next president to embrace the campus.
“I think it’s the best position in the nation to be a part of the University of Florida, with just incredible opportunity,” Fuchs said. 
Gershon Harrell is an education reporter at The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached by phone at (352) 338-3166, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @GershonReports.


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