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George LeMieux's View on College Tuition Won't Win Popularity Points in FAU Presidency Bid

January 4, 2014 - 6:00pm

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater may have thrown his name into the ring to become Florida Atlantic Universitys next president, but another familiar name in Florida politics -- George LeMieux -- also has his eyes on the top spot at the Boca Raton-based university.

LeMieux, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist and as a U.S. senator from 2009 to 2011, had been rumored to be seeking the position, but things became official on Sunday when he confirmed he would be seeking the same job as Atwater.

LeMieuxs positions on certain aspects of Florida higher education, however, could put him at a significant disadvantage. In 2011, LeMieux said he strongly supported raising tuition at Floridas colleges, believing it was too cheap to attend college in Florida -- a viewpoint that may not make him easily embraced by Gov. Rick Scott or his Board of Governors.

The tuition at our universities is way too low, said LeMieux. We are the cheapest university tuition system in the country. I send my 4-year-old to Christian school (and) I pay more for him to go to Christian school for a year than kids (spend) for the University of Florida for a year. Youre going to only get what you pay for.

In May of last year, Scott vetoed a 3 percent increase in Florida college tuition from the annual budget, saying the tuition increase was nothing more than a tax on middle-class families in the Sunshine State. A law requiring tuition to keep up with the rate of inflation, however, bumped the prices 1.7 percent for the year.

Tuition increases hit close to home at FAU. While other universities like UCF increased tuition by 1.7 percent on top of various other fees, officials at FAU decided to offset their 1.7 percent tuition increase with a financial waiver valued at $1.75 per credit hour, which would allow all students at the university to keep their tuition costs the same as they were in 2012-2013.

In an email to his staff, Atwater holds a unique and special affinity for FAU. Indeed, Atwater does have close ties to FAU -- two of his children graduated from the university and another is currently attending school there. He also represented the schools three campuses when he served in the Florida Legislature from 2000 to 2010.

While the current list of candidates includes 48 people who are currently employed in higher education (including the deans of Purdue University, the College of Charleston and the former president of Furman University), FAU has a history of politicians serving as its president.

Former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan served as president of the university from 2003-2009, but left to become chancellor of the State University System. Brogan is credited for a great number of new programs there, including FAU's first-ever comprehensive strategic plan and placing emphasis on partnerships between FAU and leading research organizations like the Scripps Research Institute.

On Monday, FAUs 15-member search committee is expected to meet to come up with a list of between eight and 10 finalists and will make its final decision by Jan. 17.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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