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FAU Faculty Critique the Candidates for University President

FAU faculty met on the school's Boca Raton campus yesterday to discuss the three remaining candidates for the school's presidency. They expressed a clear preference that Dr. John Kelly, Clemson University's VP for economic development, take the helm.

Former Florida Sen. George LeMieux and Dr. Christopher Earley, dean of Purdue University's Krannert School of Management, came in for some kind words but little enthusiasm. Beyond that, LeMieux's lack of academic experience and political baggage were cited. It was said that some faculty are deeply opposed to LeMieux, while such animus was lacking in remarks about Kelly and Earley.

Fifty or professors attended yesterday's meeting at the school's new Engineering East building. Though moderated by Dr. Ron Nyhan, president of the Faculty Senate, it was not an official gathering. As we noted of a similar sitdown last week, some self-selection was involved, but no one present claimed to speak for all faculty. It is likely those who attended were those most aware of the presidential search process and concerned for the school's future. Here's what we saw and heard (without disclosing any identities but two, as requested):

Faculty union President Chris Robe was the most fervent speaker, praising Kelly for the "specificity" of his responses in the finalist trio's open forums earlier this week. He contrasted that with the other candidates' "evasive" answers.

An engineering prof said that, in a personal "little survey," his colleagues agreed that FAU benefactor Dick Schmidt "said it best" in comments to the Palm Beach Post: "[LeMieux] hit it out of the park." The prof said that, while he came out of John Kelly's forum thinking "He's the man," he wondered if Kelly "can handle the Board of Trustees" compared to LeMieux.

Another prof said he had both "enthusiasm" and "trepidation" about all three candidates. He called LeMieux "reasonable" and "appreciative of the public sector," Kelly "very talented" and understanding of "vision" and "loyalty," and Earley "very bright." Overall, though, the prof said the final choice was bound to be "a shot in the dark."

Another prof favored Kelly because FAU "needs branding, or whatever. Students need to know 'Why come here?' and Kelly has that in mind [with the idea of] 'student-centered research.'" The prof called LeMieux "a problem-solver, not a visionary."

One prof expressed concern about the speed with which the presidential selection process was moving, with the Board of Trustees set to interview and vote on the finalists today. "They're going to make a decision that quickly?" (Moderator Nyhan sympathized, noting that "not all the trustees have met personally" with the finalists.) The prof went on to say he was "troubled" by media accounts that LeMieux had left politics because he lacked fundraising ability and was "not well-liked" in Tallahassee.

Another prof offered that "a lot of people would be angry" at a LeMieux selection. "A lot of faculty oppose him right off the bat," he said, while the opposition to Kelly is less deep-seated. Moderator Nyhan agreed that Kelly and Earley, as academics, would "have a much easier transition."

In a lengthy set of comments, one prof described Earley as "thoughtful," with a "refreshing focus on faculty" but wondered if his experience as a management school dean was "too narrow." The prof slammed LeMieux for a too-clever response at one forum. According to the prof, when asked about "interaction with the provost," LeMieux punted, saying "The guy that's doing it now is pretty good." "That told me," the prof said,"he hadn't grasped the concept." John Kelly came if for criticism too, for "lack of understanding of [FAU's] situation. He was unaware of our strategic plan." (Kelly, according to another prof, had said "he was interested" in the strategic plan" but "couldn't find it" on the school's website where, according to the prof, it is not, in fact, posted.)

"Academic freedom should be priority number one," another prof insisted. To which Nyhan replied that LeMieux, "the only one questioned about academic freedom," said he "absolutely supports it and tenure."

Christopher Earley was praised by one prof for a "very sophisticated understanding of diversity," particularly in the context of the school's location in South Florida, and "how it could make [FAU] unique."

Kelly came in for an especially strong endorsement from another prof. "One candidate stands out today for a demonstrated record of leading a school out of crisis. Under Kelly, Clemson not just survived; it did better. He's not a politician. He's actually implemented success." [Here's something on Clemson's pre-Kelly "crisis."]

Union leader Robe followed with a second set of comments. LeMieux, he said, referring to FAU's disastrous last year under former President Mary Jane Saunders, "might be a good choice if we had a fully functioning administration." But in light of LeMieux's lack of experience in academia, "The tail [meaning the trustees and adminstrative staff] is gonna wag the dog...[LeMieux] is a pragmatist, not a visionary." Kelly, on the other hand, according to Robe, "has a background with crisis and can organize with vision."

In a final set of comments, another prof offered this catalog: Earley "may not be able to step up from a business-school-only background." Kelly "seems competent in South Carolina. Florida is another game." LeMieux "doesn't provide a buffer between Florida politics and the university. We'll be 'just another state agency.'"

On that last note, we'd like to add that, if any trustees plan to vote today for LeMieux because they think his political background will give the school clout in Tallahassee, think again. One of two men are almost certain to be Florida's next governor. If it's Charlie Crist, LeMieux may have to wade through a good deal of bad blood to get his ear.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

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