Criser top choice for next university system chancellor
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.
ORLANDO — A search committee for the Florida Board of Governors voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend Marshall Criser III, a member of the University of Florida board of trustees and president of AT&T Florida, as the next chancellor for the State University System.
The Board of Governors will vote on Criser's nomination when it meets in Miami on Nov. 21.
The committee spent the morning and part of the afternoon conducting one-hour interviews with Criser and three other top candidates for the position, which became vacant when Frank Brogan stepped down to take the job as chancellor of the Pennsylvania state university system.
Committee members said all four candidates were amply qualified and unique in their background and experience, but they said Criser meshed best with their goals and philosophies for the future of the state's 12 universities, 335,000 students and a budget of nearly $10 billion.
"He understands the challenges we face," committee member Tom Kuntz said. "It's our state's time now, it's our system's time now to not only continue to excel but to go to the next level."
In particular, they said, they were impressed by how well Criser knows the state's educational system at K-12, college and university levels, how deeply committed he is to the educational needs of the state's workforce, and his proven leadership.
"I am extremely impressed by what he's done," said Mori Hosseini, who chaired the search committee. "Education is in his blood."
Criser, son of former University of Florida President Marshall Criser Jr., was a clear favorite from the get-go. He impressed the panel when he talked about how passionate he has been about education his entire life. He has served on numerous education committees and policy boards, and at present serves as vice-chair of the UF board of trustees, chairs the Higher Education Coordinating Council, and sits on the Scripps Research Institute board of trustees.
"He understands all aspects of our system," committee member Patricia Frost said.
Criser's ability to bring people together was just as important as his educational background, Hosseini said. But Hosseini was also keen on Criser's business experience.
"Very rarely do you get an executive with a well-known company like AT&T with a keen knowledge of education," he said.
Committee member Manoj Chopra, an engineering professor at University of Central Florida, said Criser would make a good chancellor because he is committed to the faculty and all different types of learning — not just the concentration of science, technology, engineering and math, but the arts and humanities, too.
"It's clear that his goal is not to transform our university system into a workforce development system," Chopra said.
The candidates for chancellor got to explain their positions on a broad range of topics:
* Performance-based funding, something the state has been slowly venturing into as a pilot program, rewarding universities with bonus money for meeting certain performance goals.
* How to raise tuition to ensure quality and funding without pricing students out of a college education.
* Incentives to keep students in school and finishing sooner, and to drive up graduation rates. Also, how to get students back to school after they drop out because of financial pressures.
* The need for communication between the chancellor and the Board of Governors, with the university presidents and their boards of trustees, and with the governor and Legislature in coming up with common, achievable goals.
* The need to balance studies in science, technology, engineering and math with the arts and humanities.
* Faculty autonomy in developing curriculum, and using online learning to meet the challenges of a population with changing needs.
The other candidates traveled from all parts of the United States, but at least one played up his connection to Florida. Bruce Rafert, provost of North Dakota State University and former dean of graduate studies at Clemson, mentioned his graduate work at UF and his post-doctorate work at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, and talked about the emerging Florida Gulf Coast University rising out of the Corkscrew Swamp near his wife's hometown of Naples.
Committee members were impressed with his articulate, well-planned answers. They asked about his implementation of a five-tier tuition system at Clemson, something the board has contemplated doing in Florida. He said the varying tuition rates actually helped double enrollment and they improved tuition revenues.
James Purcell also gave knowledgeable answers, comparing the challenges of Florida higher education to what he's dealt with as commissioner of the Louisiana Board of Regents and as head of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and Oklahoma's strategic planning for higher education. Board members were interested in how he dealt with rising tuition rates to offset falling state revenue, and his efforts to bring online learning to Louisiana.
Mark Drummond, most recently the CEO and provost of a system of 17 university campuses throughout the United Arab Emirates, talked about his four-year stint running the UAE university system, and his overseeing of the California and Los Angeles community college systems.
Committee members were interested in his broad range of experience and asked why he wanted to be chancellor of Florida's university system. He said he wanted to see if he could do a better job than former Chancellor Charlie Reed, who ran the California university system when Drummond ran the state's community college system.
He also said he believed he was not done being a "systems administrator."
But, he joked, he wanted the job because the horses he had owned in UAE were now being boarded in Ocala.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.