Gulf Coast University seeks new president


Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:27 p.m.

On the heels of President William Merwin's resignation in a scandalous affair, Florida Gulf Coast University is looking for a new leader on campus.

A 14-member committee has been named to screen and interview potential candidates to fill the shoes of the man credited with increasing enrollment and the school's presence throughout Southwest Florida.

Merwin stepped down from his post Wednesday at an emergency meeting of the FGCU Board of Trustees, where he admitted to an affair with a female faculty member.

Merwin, 67, headed the university for eight years and is married with three children.

"My personal hope is we're able to move as quickly as possible and have a president during the late summer or fall of this year," said Scott Lutgert, chairman of the trustees.

In the meantime, Richard Pegnetter, dean of the FGCU College of Business, will serve as interim president based at the main campus in Estero near Fort Myers.

Kirt Gallatin, president of FGCU student government, said students are taking the shift in stride.

"The students are supporting Merwin and supporting the school in this," Gallatin said.

He said students place a lot of confidence in Pegnetter's ability to see the school through the transition.

"Everybody loves Pegnetter," Gallatin said. "He'll make sure we save face with this."

Susan Evans, university spokeswoman, said she does not expect the change in leadership to have any effect on the university's strategic plans for expansion.

To accommodate enrollment projections, the university is looking to build several satellite campuses. Evans said FGCU anticipates enrollment will climb to 20,000 students in 10 years. By then, the main campus is expected to have reached capacity.

"I don't think a change in presidency will have an impact on enrollment growth," Evans said.

Florida Gulf Coast University opened its doors to students in 1997 as the state's 10th public university.

Lutgert said communities have been strong supporters of the university and that won't change with Merwin's resignation.

"It's very important that the university has a close relationship with Charlotte County," Lutgert said.

Merwin, whose yearly salary amounted to $298,000, announced his decision to step down from his position in front of a crowd of about 200 students and faculty.

In his prepared statement, he said he needed to give "personal issues" in his life "full attention."

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