In little more than an hour yesterday, a field of 61 candidates for the presidency of FAU was winnowed down to ten. The two most high-profile aspirants, State Treasurer Jeff Atwater and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, made the cut despite strong reservations voiced by two key members of the school's selection committee.
Optics was a theme in both objections: What does it say to have a politician at a school's helm? Especially -- and this was an unspoken subtext -- at the helm of a school that in the past year, under its previous president, stumbled into a series of highly political controversies that left it a national laughingstock.
Panel member Dick Schmidt, whose family name is on a major chunk of the school's real estate, including the new College of Medicine, spoke out against Atwater's nomination, saying, "I don't think picking a politician is sending the right message to the faculty."
LeMieux's name drew fire from panelist Abdol Moabery, who, as a trustee, is one of six panel members who will actually have a vote on the final choice of new president. "I don't want this to be a political race," he said. "It will turn ugly, and I don't agree with it."
Faculty present for the affair and others we have contacted have been almost universally in agreement with the anti-pol panelists. FAU faculty union President Chris Robe has promised to grill Atwater about Gov. Rick Scott's meddling in FAU academic affairs and about Atwater's ability to remain independent of the governor.
The final ten includes just one woman, and that choice was one the committee stumbled into late in the hour, when all ten slots were almost filled. Dr. Mary Holz-Clause of the University of Connecticut was the token.
Why do we feel free to say "token"? Because Holz-Clause's name was floated only as a replacement for the nomination of Dr. Gayle L. Ormiston of Marshall University, whose nomination was made, explicitly, for purposes of "diversity" and was withdrawn when the panel realized Dr. Ormiston pees standing up.
"We're going to hold it against him that 'she's' a 'he'?" one panelist joked. To which another remarked, "Let's not go there." Don't pack your bags, Dr. Holz-Clause.
The search process is notably lacking in rigor when it comes to the would-be president's money trail. The search panel has chosen not to require full financial disclosure and is relying only on background and credit checks. That means the full extent of applicant's business and investment interests are unknown.
The panel's legal adviser, FAU General Counsel David Kian, told us that financial disclosure is required once the new president is hired and that the eventual choice "would have to be crazy" to go through the process hiding any conflict or embarrassment knowing it would eventually be disclosed.
There are those who would say, however, that anyone applying to be president of FAU must be "crazy." And financial portfolios are like a box of candy: You never know what you're going to find.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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