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Joseph Ladapo hiring violated UF procedures, faculty report says

Some faculty felt Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general, was the subject of “preferential treatment on the basis of his political opinions.”
UF's hiring of Joseph Ladapo, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis picked last year to be the state’s surgeon general, did not adequately involve the input of faculty normally charged with reviewing a candidate’s application for tenure, the report found.
UF's hiring of Joseph Ladapo, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis picked last year to be the state’s surgeon general, did not adequately involve the input of faculty normally charged with reviewing a candidate’s application for tenure, the report found. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Mar. 31|Updated Mar. 31

The University of Florida violated its own hiring procedures while bringing Joseph Ladapo onboard for a tenured position, according to a faculty committee report released Wednesday.

The hiring of Ladapo, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis picked last year to be the state’s surgeon general, did not adequately involve the input of faculty normally charged with reviewing a candidate’s application for tenure, the report found.

Administrators accelerated Ladapo’s start date to accommodate DeSantis’ announcement that the doctor would become the state’s next surgeon general, it said. And some faculty members felt Ladapo was the subject of “preferential treatment on the basis of his political opinions,” the report said.

“The irregularities noted above were of concern to the members of this committee and appeared to violate the spirit, and in review the exact letter, of UF hiring regulations and procedures, particularly in the vital role faculty play in evaluating the qualifications of their peers,” reads the report, which was compiled by seven professors from across five university sectors.

Under his deal with the state and UF, Ladapo is to spend 20 percent of his time teaching and researching at the university, and 80 percent of it running the Department of Health.

Related: UF rushed Ladapo tenure vote, downplayed COVID-19 controversy, letter alleges

Ladapo, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher, makes $262,000 a year as a professor, plus $75,000 for a role in which he’s charged with “developing policies and interventions to reduce healthcare disparities for UF Health.” Between the UF job and his surgeon general role, he’s paid a total of $437,000 per year.

When asked about the report, Department of Health spokesperson Jeremy Redfern dismissed the efforts of the committee.

“The time of those at the University of Florida writing 100-page reports regarding hiring practices would be better spent working on important issues like research and curing cancer,” Redfern wrote in an emailed statement.

Hessy Fernandez, a spokesperson for UF Health, wrote in an emailed statement that “the hiring process followed in Dr. Ladapo’s case is consistent with the hiring process used in other cases in the (College of Medicine), and the tenure process followed is consistent with the tenure process followed in all of UF’s colleges.”

The report came in the wake of media scrutiny about how UF brought Ladapo aboard. The university’s Faculty Senate Chairperson David Bloom convened the committee and asked them to evaluate whether Ladapo’s hiring was consistent with UF College of Medicine procedures.

Using interviews with faculty members, public emails and media reports, the committee came to the conclusion that Ladapo’s hire did not comport with those practices.

In a letter dated Sept. 16, Ladapo was told that top UF officials had approved a request to award him tenure. College of Medicine faculty were still voting on whether to recommend tenure for Ladapo when he was sent that letter. Their votes were due the next day, Sept. 17.

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Related: UF rushed Ladapo tenure vote, downplayed COVID-19 controversy, letter alleges

“It is difficult to understand how a request could be made to the President and Provost regarding a tenure application when the unit faculty had not yet voted on the matter,” the report read.

The report also noted that Ladapo changed his own start date from Oct. 1 to Sept. 20 so his hiring would be final ahead of a Sept. 21 news conference, at which DeSantis planned to announce Ladapo’s appointment.

A screenshot of an offer letter extended to Dr. Joseph Ladapo in which the incoming Florida surgeon general changed his own start date from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 20, 2021.
A screenshot of an offer letter extended to Dr. Joseph Ladapo in which the incoming Florida surgeon general changed his own start date from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 20, 2021. [ UF Health ]

The committee found the university skirted its rules relating to search committees. Ladapo was hired to fill a position that had been open since 2019. A committee of four professors was formed to help the university fill it. When UF ultimately did, two of the professors on the committee said they were never consulted, according to the report. Another professor on the committee had stopped working at UF two years prior.

It’s not unusual for the university to fudge certain procedures when rushing to fill a competitive vacancy, some administrators said in the report.

“The entire process can easily come down to whether someone has a (resume) that checks the right boxes, and ... Dr. Ladapo’s (resume) did,” the report reads, citing David Nelson, the university’s vice president for health affairs; Colleen Koch, the dean of the College of Medicine; and department chairperson Jamie Conti.

Those administrators pledged to revisit hiring procedures in the future, the report says. Bloom, who commissioned the report, said he is encouraged about the changes the College of Medicine intends to implement.

Danaya Wright, a law professor and member of the committee that compiled this report, said she was troubled by the idea that a rushed hiring process could be so routine.

“What’s ironic is the senior administrators in the College of Medicine that we talked to all said, ‘Well, this happened, this is not unusual,’” Wright said. “And I thought, ‘Wow. It should be. It should be unusual. You shouldn’t just be not following your procedures.’”

Since his appointment, Ladapo has taken numerous controversial stances on various coronavirus-related public health matters. He’s backed DeSantis’ view that mask-wearing is ineffective “COVID theater.” Earlier this month, Ladapo issued a department recommendation cautioning that vaccines may be more harmful than beneficial to healthy children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that eligible kids get the shots.

Last month, after a series of contentious hearings, the Florida Senate voted along party lines to confirm Ladapo to the role of surgeon general.

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