Next UF president must be able to accept 'warts' of the job, panel told


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 12:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 12:36 p.m.

It's not exactly an appealing job ad: "Wanted — President of major research university in a state with declining higher education funding, limits on tuition and meddling politicians."

Yet that's the situation faced in the University of Florida's search for its next president, according to one of the men who previously held the job.

Former UF President Marshall Criser Jr. told the university's presidential search committee Wednesday that its task is complicated by a number of challenges. UF's next leader must be aware of positive parts of the job as well as the negative "warts," he said.

"We need to find someone to be the next president of this university who will look at the warts and be willing to deal with the situation as it is," he said.

UF President Bernie Machen announced in June that he would be retiring by the end of 2013, with the exact date determined by the naming of his successor.

Wednesday marked the first meeting of a presidential search committee comprised of more than 20 members, including university trustees, administrators and faculty. The Miramar Beach-based search firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates, which worked on the search that landed Machen, was hired last week to work with the committee.

Firm partner Jan Greenwood said there are a limited number of candidates qualified for such a job. There were 18 presidential searches at research universities in the last academic year, she said, but just six candidates in those searches who met the criteria being sought.

"This is a market where the supply is short and the demand is high," she said.

In addition to the full committee, four subcommittees met Wednesday to consider issues such as the compensation, housing and qualifications of the next UF president. A company is being hired to survey the pay of other major university presidents.

One of the first tasks at hand for the committee is determining the criteria and qualifications that UF will seek in its next leader. An open forum on the issue is planned for Aug. 24.

Manny Fernandez, former chairman of UF's board of trustees, told the committee that its work can be done under the state's Sunshine Law requiring public meetings and documents.

UF trustee Al Warrington had previously questioned whether such a search is possible under the law's requirements. Fernandez said that kind of view is a myth.

"Is the Sunshine Law a hindrance to this process? You bet," he said. "But can a search of this magnitude be properly done? Absolutely."

Criser Jr., UF president from 1984 to 1989, gave the committee a bleak history lesson on the problems in the state university system.

State support has gone through a precipitous decline in recent years, he said, but lawmakers and the governor just approved a new university in Florida Polytechnic. Yet the governor vetoed a measure that would have allowed UF to raise tuition to market rates, he said.

While Criser focused on the difficult situation faced by UF's next leader, he praised the idea that university officials largely comprised the committee tasked with finding the future president.

"This is the way we should do a search," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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