Selection process for next New College president resumes
Written by WSLR News on Saturday, September 9, 2023
One board of trustees member is concerned about lack of student and faculty input
By Dania Hefley
Original Air Date: Sept. 8, 2023
Host: Hurricane Idalia forced a delay in the highly choreographed dance that will lead to the selection of the next president of New College. Interim President Richard Corcoran and two other finalists are now expected to answer questions and bow to the campus crowd in October. WSLR News reporter Dania Hefley talked to a trustee, and she puts her finger on an important issue that has received little public attention in this process: Money.
Dania Hefley: The search started with the appointment of Richard Corcoran as interim president in February. That was followed by the announcement of the members of the presidential search committee members on April 7. That committee then went through a pool of 90 candidates – criticized by some as small compared to the 130 the last time around – and came up with the three finalists.
There is, first and foremost, Richard Corcoran. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former secretary of education is generally believed to be a shoo-in. There also is Robert Gervasi, the only finalist with experience in running colleges. He has been in charge of two private, religious liberal arts colleges. And then there is Tyler Fisher, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida with little administrative background.
Then, Hurricane Idalia led to a delay in the process. The finalists for the presidency were announced on Aug. 1, but the forums scheduled for Aug. 29, 30, and Sept. 1 were postponed until further notice. Yesterday, New College officials assured that new dates will be announced before the end of the week.
Even before the hurricane delays, the timeline for the candidates and their time on campus was too tight in the first place, one critic says. In an interview, Grace Keenan – co-president of the New College Student Association, as well as the student representative on the board of trustees – discusses the problem posed by the delay and speeding up of the timeline.
Grace Keenan: One of my biggest concerns right now is – because we’ve had an accelerated timeline – making sure we’re able to have the students, faculty and staff interviews for all the candidates. I believe the meetings are supposed to take place the first week of October. So that’s not a whole lot of time for everyone in the community to really get to know all the candidates.
DH: As far as student and faculty input, how do you think the process has been so far?
GK: I don’t think we’ve really had an opportunity to meet the other two candidates. Not Corcoran, obviously, because he’s been on campus. But if I was doing it, I would have done a much different timeline that allowed for these people to come on to campus multiple times, sitting through a class, if they didn’t get that opportunity already – all of that stuff – so that I’m actually able to get a feel for how the students feel about the candidates, gather some data about how they would like me to vote on the board of trustees. It takes a lot of time, is basically what I’m saying. And with an accelerated timeline, I don’t really have it. But I’ll do the best in the about month we have left.
The search committee was formed by Board of Trustees Chair Debra Jenks, in partnership with Board of Governors member Brian Lamb. It includes only one faculty member, as opposed to three on the 2020 Presidential Search Committee.
The board is made up of three trustees: Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Matthew Spalding, Mark Bauerlein, and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Ron Christaldi, who is an alum. Adam Levine is the Florida Board of Governors representative. He was also involved in the 2020 search that led to Patricia Okker’s selection.
The other search committee members include Fiona McFarland, a Republican state representative, as well as alum and superyacht lawyer Bob Allen, who claimed responsibility for triggering the administrative changes at New College. There’s Joe Jacquot, a partner at Gunster Law Firm who previously served as General Counsel to Gov. Ron DeSantis; and, last but not least, Bridget Ziegler, chair of the Sarasota County School Board and co-founder of Moms for Liberty.
As to the student representatives, the 2020 search committee included former New College Student Alliance President Sofia Lombardi. This year, Joshua Broyhill, a third-year transfer and off-campus student, is the student representative. Joshua is planning to intern with Republican State Sen. Joe Gruters, the husband of Sydney Gruters, the newly appointed executive director of the New College Foundation.
An issue that has received little mention during this presidential search is the president’s salary. The presidential search committee approved a significant salary bump, which faces New College with the challenge of funding the next president’s pay properly.
A Florida statute caps the salaries of public university presidents at $200,000. In other words, the college administration needs to come up with the remaining $600,000 for the president’s salary, if it is in line with what Corcoran is earning today. With the New College Foundation being a potential source, the upcoming finance committee meeting for the foundation on Sept. 14 will probably ponder that question.
In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Corcoran indirectly responded to criticisms about his salary.
He says that he has a big agenda to fulfill, and that the board of directors were not looking for someone “just to keep the trains running.”
“They wanted someone with a track record of going into complex organization and making rapid, effective, systemic change,” he said.
He added that says he has a “ history of moving the ball down the field,” and that he is “comfortable shaking up static systems and institutions throughout government”.
This has been Dania Heffley, reporting for WSLR News.