Hold the phone

A Wednesday conference call turned into a heated discussion on how the Board of Trustees would conduct closing interviews for the University presidential finalists.

Trustee R. B. Holmes Jr., co-chair, presided over the teleconference involving six board members, the Presidential Search Committee, representatives from the Hollins Group search firm and the University lawyer.

“There would be a process (on Feb.1) where we would interview each candidate for 2 to 2 1/2 hours,” Holmes said. “Part of that would be questions for review by the board.”

Holmes said between meetings, the board “would spend its time in question and dialogue of any answers from the candidates that posed a problem.”

Some trustees were concerned about the type of questions that would be asked of finalists.

“I wanted to make sure that we address their endorsement ambitions for the University,” Trustee Leerie Jenkins said.

Board co-chair Laura Branker said she wanted to know whether questions regarding University fundraising would be presented to candidates.

“My only concern is that we have the full information necessary to vote,” she said.

Trustee Phillip Agnew, FAMU student body president, wanted assurance that he would be able to ask questions to the candidates based on responses from student feedback forms. He said students at the sessions last week greatly appreciated the meetings.

Tensions arose when the board began discussing whether questions for candidates should remain private.

Some board members agreed they did not want questions open to finalists, trustees or the public prior to the proceeding.”I think it would be an atrocity for any of this information to be leaked in any way,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said she was concerned that candidates would have time to come up with long, detailed instead of instant responses.

Charles Taylor, a representative from the Hollins Group, said it would be beneficial to keep all questions private.

“The board could submit questions to the candidates,” Taylor said. “The only issue would be the loss of spontaneity.”

Trustee Mary Diallo said she wanted the questions to be open to board members and all three candidates prior to Feb. 1. She emphasized that presenting the questions to the finalists before the proceeding would offer an “equal playing ground.”

Board members agreed to forward any questions they had for the candidates to Taylor, who would be responsible for laying out the format. Board members voted for Branker to assist Taylor.

Some members were not sure whether allowing Branker to be involved with question selection adhered to Florida Sunshine Laws. The board did not want to inadvertently force all final questions to be open to the public before the Feb. 1 interviews. Holmes assured the board this would not be the case.

Trustee Challis Lowe proposed that each presidential candidate be placed in a holding room on the day of the meeting so they would not be able to hear other candidates’ answers. The majority agreed with her suggestion.

In the final vote, board members will be expected to vote for the one candidate they think should be the University’s next president. Board members agreed to vote Feb. 1 only if they felt the information provided was adequate to make a well-informed vote.

Trustees not available on the call included William Jennings, Pamela Duncan, W. George Allen, Regina Benjamin, Spurgeon McWilliams, Al Cardenas and Jessie Tyson. All 13 board members are expected to vote on Feb. 1.

A schedule of the remainder of the presidential search process can be found online at www.famu.edu by clicking on “FAMU Presidential Search” and “Search Timetable.”