Former Ohio State University president and University of Florida administrator Karen Holbrook has announced she will accept a position as USF’s interim vice president of research and innovation.
Though she brings an impressive resume, Holbrook’s appointment has raised eyebrows among some faculty members who are critical of the process used to find and hire her.
Usually when an upper level administrator is hired, a search committee composed of faculty members, administrators and student representatives is formed to evaluate the candidates’ qualifications.
However, in the case of visiting and interim positions, search committees are not required.
Holbrook was located for the University by the outside executive search firm, Quick Leonard Kieffer. Often called “headhunters”, firms like Keiffer are often employed to fill upper level positions at universities and the private sector, said a Keiffer representative.
A Vice President of Research and Innovation Search Advisory Committee did meet with USF President Judy Genshaft on Aug 13.
However, the committee didn’t meet again until after Genshaft announced that Holbrook had accepted the position, said committee member Christine Probes. They met with Holbrook in late October for the first time.
Some faculty members worry that their voices were not heard in the hiring process.
Though he wasn’t familiar with the process used to find and hire Holbrook, president of USF’s faculty union Sherman Dorn said any time the faculty aren’t consulted in major decisions there is grounds for concern.
“Regardless of the professional quality of person appointed, the University is supposed to be governed collegially,” he said. “It’s not good to have (a hiring like Holbrook’s) happen without faculty involvement.”
Before becoming OSU’s president, Holbrook served as vice president of research at the University of Florida and provost at the University of Georgia.
She retired from OSU after five years of service. During that time, OSU was ranked eighth in the nation among public universities for sponsored research expenditures and created a new Undergraduate Research Office.
While president, Holbrook was criticized for her lack of accessibility to undergraduates, and she came under fire for remarks she made while interviewing for the position of president at Florida Gulf Coast University.
She told interviewers there that OSU had “a culture of rioting.”
“When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. African-American Heritage Festival weekend, you riot,” she said. “They think it’s fun to flip cars, to really have absolute drunken orgies.”
A column run by OSU’s student newspaper The Lantern compared USF football’s loss to Rutgers to the University’s hiring of Holbrook, stating USF was losing by hiring Holbrook as well.
“Her reputation among students was so bad that within two days of being on campus, I’d been bred to hate her by Ohio State Welcome Leaders and returning students from all directions,” columnist Zack Timmons wrote.
Holbrook did admit she spent more time fostering OSU’s reputation than dealing with undergrads, but defended her record.
“I spent a lot of time trying to improve things for the university on a national level,” Holbrook said. “But I loved meeting with them when I was invited to group and club events.”
She said she looks forward to getting started at USF and hopes to get more undergraduates involved in research.
Though she hasn’t signed a contract, Holbrook has accepted the position at USF and will start in December.
Joshua Neiderer can be reached at (813)974-5190 or firstname.lastname@example.org