Jeff Atwater Out of FAU Prez Selection, George LeMieux Still In
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Looks like Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater might be staying in Tallahassee a little longer. Atwater was axed Friday from becoming the next president of Florida Atlantic University.
On Friday morning, Atwater participated in a 90-minute interview with the university's presidential search committee. By Friday evening, the committee had announced he would not be one of three finalists for the position.
When the CFO was asked by the committee what his goals were for FAU, he said he wanted to "increase the graduation rate, become a top three school in Florida, cooperate with local businesses, and engage the community." He also said he hopes to put a "great deal" of financial and academic focus on expanding online classes for the university.
Atwater also said he hoped to expand the university's medical school and touted his vast experience in Florida politics as part of why he would be a good fit for the position. Atwater, with a vast resume in banking prior to his public life, served as Senate president from 2008-2010 and has served as CFO since 2011.
Atwater, who hails from North Palm Beach, has close personal ties with the university although he has not been particularly focused on education throughout his time in politics. Two of Atwater's four children graduated from FAU and another currently attends school there.
The committee said Atwater could be a force in helping the university get money from the Florida Legislature.
Significant argument occurred over putting a politician into the presidency position, but several members said not to count Atwater out just because of his work in politics.
“The guy sits in the office next to the big guy [Rick Scott],” said one member, adding that the university needed a “powerhouse” to navigate the Legislature. “He’s a smart guy.”
Committee member Wendy Link said that while Atwater didn’t perform well in his interview, he could bring integrity and vision to FAU and unite the communities of Broward, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast behind the university.
But it wasn’t enough to push Atwater to the final three candidates moving on to be selected as president.
Another prominent politician from Florida, George LeMieux, was also interviewed -- and was chosen as a finalist for the position. LeMieux served as chief of staff under former Gov. Charlie Crist and also served in the U.S. Senate from 2009-2011.
The committee lauded LeMieux as being “genuine” and “well-prepared” for the interview.
"I thought Senator LeMieux hit the ball out of the park,” said the committee on his interview.
LeMieux’s position on raising college tuition, however, had come under fire after he declared he would be applying for the position, but that didn’t seem to stop the search committee from choosing him as a finalist for the position.
Christopher Earley, Ph.D., dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, and John Kelly, Ph.D., vice president for economic development at Clemson University were also chosen as finalists. The presidential search committee is expected to make a final decision Jan. 17.
FAU has been riddled with controversy over the past year. Former president Mary Jane Saunders resigned after a troubling year in which she became involved in an altercation with a student in March. The student accused Saunders of hitting her with her car while she was leaving the Jupiter campus during a protest.
The university also made headlines last year when a communications professor declared the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax and another professor asked his students to “stomp on Jesus” as part of a classroom exercise.
"There will be lots of scrutiny for this president." said the committee on Friday evening.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.