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FAU trustees chairman steps down after presidential search controversy

The FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Brad Levine stepped down from his position on Thursday. He plans to stay on the board as a trustee. (Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)
The FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Brad Levine stepped down from his position on Thursday. He plans to stay on the board as a trustee. (Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)
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The leader of the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees is stepping down, saying his presence has become a distraction due to a controversy over a search for a new president.

Brad Levine plans to remain a member of the trustees but resigned Thursday as chairman.

His announcement, which came at a Board of Trustees meeting, comes two weeks after the State University System’s Board of Governors issued a vote of no confidence against him.

The Board of Governors has been highly critical of a search to replace President John Kelly, who stepped down in late 2022.

The state board scrapped a search in December after an investigation by its inspector general determined it violated several state laws and university regulations. The state board won’t let FAU start a new search until it revises some policies.

“The university is poised to select a permanent president, a search that has been arduous and now must commence anew,” Levine said at Thursday’s meeting.

Florida Atlantic University's Board of Trustees voted to appoint Piero Bussani, center, as the chairman after Brad Levine stepped down from his position on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Levine plans to stay on the board as a trustee. (Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)
Florida Atlantic University’s Board of Trustees voted to appoint Piero Bussani, center, as the chairman after Brad Levine stepped down from his position on Thursday.(Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)

“Unfortunately, I have personally become part of this narrative,” he said. “The selection of an experienced visionary leader deserves no such distraction. The students deserve a search that is free of such distractions.”

Piero Bussani, a lawyer who has been on the FAU Board of Trustees since 2021, was elected the new chairman.

“It’s an enormous honor, one of the greatest honors of my career to be chairman of the Florida Atlantic University trustees,” Bussani said. “It’s a great university. It’s done great things. We just have to move forward. The single focus you should all have here is just to support the people who are supporting our students.”

Levine, who had appointed himself as chairman of the presidential search committee and appointed its members, faced harsh criticism from the Board of Governors at a Jan. 24 meeting. Under new proposed state regulations, the board chairman can no longer also lead the search committee.

Craig Mateer, a member of the Board of Governors, called the FAU search “a mess” at the January meeting and recommended the state board take a vote of no confidence against Levine.

“There’s a big responsibility to being chair. When you choose the entire committee and your process breaks down, that has to be dealt with,” Mateer said at the state board meeting.

Brad Levine, a leader with the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, said the university's presidential search "has been arduous" and now "must commence anew." He said students deserve that the search for "an experienced visionary leader" be free of distractions. (Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)
Brad Levine, a leader with the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees, on Thursday said the university’s presidential search “has been arduous” and now “must commence anew.” He said students deserve that the search for “an experienced visionary leader” be free of distractions. (Mike Stocker/South Florida ֱ)

The Board of Governors has no authority to remove Levine — only Gov. Ron DeSantis can do that — but the no-confidence vote was designed to encourage Levine to step down.

The Board of Governors and State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues first suspended the FAU search July 7, two days after the university named three finalists. Rodrigues launched an investigation, citing anomalies, including the use of secret ballots to narrow finalists.

Many FAU faculty and donors and Democratic lawmakers suspected the state board’s real concern was that State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who was at one time backed by DeSantis, wasn’t named as a finalist. Fine had told the ֱ in October that DeSantis’ office had assured him the job was his.

Willian Trapani, an associate professor of communications at FAU, told the trustees Thursday he was frustrated that the Board of Governors’ investigation didn’t look more into whether state officials were pressuring FAU to hire Fine, given Fine’s statement to the ֱ.

“I suppose every government official and every member of this board could just be assuming that Randy Fine’s a liar, but I don’t assume that,” Trapani said. “I don’t think he’s a liar. Why aren’t we looking into this?”

Several public speakers praised Levine’s leadership.

“Brad Levine has served selflessly on the Board of Trustees. Regrettably, procedural issues arose during the presidential search and the contract signing of Dr. Volnick,” FAU donor Howard Weiner said. “I measure a person’s actions more in the context of intention than outcome as no one is perfect.”

The trustees also took action Thursday to rectify another concern from the Board of Governors.

In addition to criticizing Levine over the presidential search, the state board said the FAU Board of Trustees may have violated the state’s Sunshine Law, which regulates public meetings, by renewing interim President Stacy Volnick’s contract in November without posting materials on its website seven days in advance.

The trustees agreed Thursday to vote again on Volnick’s one-year contract in an effort to cure any Sunshine violations. Her contract lasts until the end of 2024 or after a new permanent president is named, whichever comes first.

Volnick’s salary this year will be $525,000, or up to $603,750 with potential bonuses.

She will also be allowed to apply for the permanent job but must compete with other applicants. Some faculty had proposed giving her the job permanently without another search, but state officials say that violates state regulations on presidential searches.

The trustees were originally supposed to meet on Jan. 30 but delayed it to ensure materials were posted seven days in advance.

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