Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Take Time With This Decision

By Rick Outzen

Few hires are as important to the future of Northwest Florida as the selection of the next president of the University of West Florida. The institution is more than place for higher learning and research; it’s a catalyst for our region’s growth.

When Dr. John Cavanaugh announced that he was leaving UWF to head the Pennsylvania State College system in 2008, 20 candidates applied to serve as interim president. Those names were narrowed down to two finalists, Dr. Judy Bense, UWF Division of Anthropology and Archaeology Executive Director and Dr. Ed Ranelli, UWF College of Business Dean.

Bense was selected and eventually the word “interim” was dropped from her title. During her tenure, she has been a cheerleader, fundraiser, lobbyist, and educator. Bense placed an emphasis on developing a fuller campus life for her students and building stronger bonds with the community. She is leaving the university in much better shape than she found it, and its testimony to her success that 70 people have applied to succeed her.

Mort O’Sullivan heads the presidential search committee. Greenwood/Asher & Associates of Miramar Beach, the consulting firm that helped the University of Florida find its president, has handled the selection process.

Earlier this year at a breakfast meeting, Julie Holley of Greenwood/Asher asked the community leaders what were their expectations of the next UWF president.

Jerry Maygarden, a former UWF student body president, Pensacola mayor and state lawmaker, said that the new president must have a focus on students and how to make the university attractive to them because enrollment numbers are important in determining state funds.

The new president has to be a fundraiser and the university’s top development officer. Maygarden said the president must understand the political process and how to work that process to get more funding from state government.

All are true, but the role of the UWF president is much more than that. The president needs to be seen as a champion for excellence in education and promote the value of learning. Education is the great equalizer that makes the American Dream possible for all students, regardless of their circumstances.

The presidential search committee met on Aug. 16 at the university’s Pensacola campus to review those 70 applications and decide the candidates who would be asked for formal interviews.

After the interviews are conducted over the next few weeks, the search committee is expected to forward three names to the Board of Trustees. The decision is expected to be made at the Sept. 15 board meeting.

Let’s hope the “fast-track” timetable isn’t rushing such an important decision. This is one deadline that could be extended if more time is needed to vet all the applicants.