The Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees on Thursday elected to reopen the search for a new university president after the panel was left with only one finalist.
Trustees were slated to choose a successor to outgoing President Mike Martin, after initially delaying a decision Nov, 2. The notion of going back to the drawing board led to multiple trustees expressing frustration Thursday, with one describing developments as “disturbing.”
FGCU launched the search in April, after Martin announced that he would retire at the end of 2022. By September, a search committee narrowed down a pool of candidates to three finalists. But after the Nov. 2 delay, two candidates dropped their bids for the presidency.
“My take on events that we have just been through, we played by the rules and we got rolled. OK? That does not make me feel good about going back into that same kind of process again,” trustee Richard Eide said Thursday.
During the Nov. 2 meeting, trustees Chairman Blake Gable attributed the delay to a conversation he had with state university system Board of Governors Chairman Brian Lamb.
FGCU trustee Edward Morton echoed Eide’s concerns Thursday, remarking that the trustees were considering “an appropriate array of candidates” and acknowledged that “a member” of the Board of Governors took issue with the finalists.
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“We had a member of the Board of Governors who was quite outspoken about the quality of the candidates,” Morton said.
Candidates Susana Rivera-Mills and Tod Laursen withdrew from consideration after the delay. FGCU said Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president at Ball State University, elected to stay at Ball State. Laursen, president of State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, “finalized another opportunity that is a better fit for him” and his family, according to FGCU.
The lone remaining finalist was Robert Gregerson, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and a former dean of FGCU’s College of Arts and Sciences. It was not determined Thursday whether Gregerson would remain in a pool of candidates when the search is reopened.
Gable said trustees will direct the search committee to create “a schedule and a gameplan” for the reopened search, with a goal of ultimately selecting three finalists. The plan is expected to be laid out at a Dec. 8 trustees meeting.
FGCU’s ultimate pick for president will be subject to confirmation by the Board of Governors.
Thursday’s move means Martin will stay on the job longer than expected. Trustee Grace Brannigan, who also is the FGCU student-body president, appeared to question the Board of Governors’ influence on a potential selection.
“The problem did not occur at some point in the weeks leading up to the moment we got to the Board of Trustees, the problem occurred when we all decided it would be OK that we didn’t vote that day (Nov. 2).,” Brannigan said.
“We found three good candidates. Any one of those people could’ve been FGCU’s next president. And then whatever shady powers that be that I’m not aware of decided that that wasn’t acceptable anymore,” Brannigan added.
Brannigan said that there was a “very large pool” of candidates for the job initially. But the search has been conducted under a new state law that allows universities to keep details of presidential searches largely secret. Under the law, the names of finalists for the jobs are required to be made public only at the tail-end of searches.
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Trustee Anna Carlin, who is president of the FGCU Faculty Senate, also expressed concerns about some of the recent developments.
“The people here at FGCU want to know what’s going to happen. This has already been very disturbing, and people are upset. I’m upset. So, if the plan is to go back and ask the search committee to draft up these processes … and bring that back in December, that, I think, sounds OK to me. We’ve already gone off the rails already in these last two weeks,” Carlin said.
The FGCU search will continue after the University of Florida, University of South Florida and University of North Florida have recently chosen new presidents. Florida Atlantic University also is searching for a permanent leader, with interim President Stacy Volnick at the helm.
Speaking to the trustees Thursday, Martin described the delays as a “bump in the road” while characterizing the recruiting of higher-education leaders as competitive.
“This is a really good place to work. And the fact that it didn’t work out this time shouldn’t be sent as a message that very good people don’t want to come here. I’m prepared to say that any time. I wouldn’t stay on if I did not believe that this is a high-quality institution,” Martin said.