New FGCU president's contract eyed; shorter length suggested by Board of Governors member
TALLAHASSEE — The state’s education commissioner has suggested that FGCU’s president-elect Aysegul Timur get a “shorter contract” when she steps into the role, the News Service of Florida is reporting.
Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr, who is also a member of the Florida state university system’s Board of Governors, made the suggestion at a Board of Governor's meeting Wednesday.
The search for FGCU's next president has been long and fraught with interference from Tallahassee. Ultimately, the university's trustees picked Timur, the only internal candidate out of four finalists.
After public comment that heavily favored giving to nod to Timur or anyone but finalist Henry Mack, the trustees decided to narrow the field to Mack and Timur.
The FGCU vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation bested Mack, an adjunct professor is the senior chancellor at the state Department of Education, by one vote.
Diaz noted the razor-thin 7 to 6 vote at Wednesday’s Board of Governor’s meeting, the News Service of Florida said.
“This looks like a situation where this contract, and I’m not talking about (compensation) amounts, should be looked at in a situation where they take baby steps,” Diaz said. “In other words, it was close, it was a close call. There was clearly, I wouldn’t say confusion, but … it was very tenuous as to making the decision.”
The News Service said Diaz acknowledged Timur’s qualifications for the job and on-campus support for her, but he described a potentially short contract as a safer move, at least in the beginning.
The Board of Governors must sign off on the selection of Timur when it meets next month.
“I think in those situations, I would always, probably want to err on the side of caution of a shorter contract, to assure that the candidate (Timur) — who is very well-qualified and obviously liked on campus — but there were several qualified candidates there, with track records. And I think it’s a situation where the (FGCU) Board of Trustees have an opportunity to set something up where they set expectations that allows the new president to meet those expectations going into a longer contract,” Diaz said.
Mack was hand-picked for his current job by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019. DeSantis, has taken several steps to try and move higher education to the political right since he became governor, that includes the November appointment of Republican Senator Ben Sasse to lead University of Florida.
Sasse, whose base salary is $1 million a year, was awarded a 5-year contract. He emerged the victor and apparently only finalist for the job in November. A relatively new Florida law allows candidates names to remain private though not finalist. The Sasse appointment was met with great resistance at Florida’s flagship university.
Then in January there was a major shake-up at New College of Florida in Sarasota when some members of the board were replaced and the president ousted. Richard Corcoran, the former Republican Speaker of the House for the Florida Legislature, was named president and is making $699,000 as a base salary, some $400,000 more a year than his ousted predecessor. Corcoran’s contract is from February 2023 through Sept. 24.
The major shake-ups were not lost on FGCU’s student, faculty and staff after the four finalist were named a month ago.
Many who spoke at finalist forums or on portals where they could critique the finalist questioned how Mack even became a finalist out of a pool of some 100 applicants.
In the public comment portal there a total of 543 entries regarding Mack, almost all of them critical.
For example, one read: “He seems like an enjoyable gentleman. I’m concerned as to how he made the short list to go forward to on-campus interviews.”
Or this: “I think there is a legitimate question of Dr. Mack’s allegiances — his repeated expression of indebtedness to the governor makes me wonder if he would be an apologist for the governor’s office and state legislature or a strong, independent advocate for FGCU."
By comparison, there were half as many comments for each of the other finalists and most of those comments were favorable.
The News Service of Florida reported that Diaz made the comment about a truncated contract Wednesday shortly after a discussion about a proposal to give the Board of Governors increased oversight of university presidents’ contracts. Such contracts are drawn up by schools’ boards of trustees and require final approval from the Board of Governors.
The proposed change to a Board of Governors regulation, in part, would require that the board conduct a review of “contemplated contract terms” before presidential candidates are invited for on-campus interviews.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Darlene Jordan, a member of the Board of Governors who also served on the FGCU Presidential Search Advisory Committee, addressed the process behind selecting Timur and said, “I look at it differently, a little bit, than you, Manny,” the News Service of Florida reported.
“Being a close vote doesn’t mean contentiousness. I think that this candidate was vetted very well. I think there were a lot of great candidates, and I think that’s why it ended up being more of a close vote than some of the other votes you might have been watching,” Jordan said.
Jordan, however, said she did not want to address any issues related to Timur’s contract.
FGCU said in a news release last week that contract negotiations had started immediately after Timur’s selection. Timur is expected to take over for Martin on July 1. Pam McCabe, a spokeswoman for FGCU, said Wednesday evening she had no knowledge of or if a length of contact had already been established by the board and Timur.
Several attempts by WGCU to get that information from the chair of the board Blake Gable were not successful Wednesday evening.
WGCU investigative reporter Eileen Kelley and reporter Ryan Dailey of the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.