Clemson University's John Kelly, Ph.D., was selected Friday night by the Florida Atlantic University board of trustees to take over as the universitys next president.
Despite the trustees' unanimous vote, the decision was close to the end, when George LeMieux, former chief of staff to Gov. Charlie Crist and former U.S. senator, was eliminated. Besides LeMieux, Kelly beat out another Ph.D. for the position, Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in Indiana.
Earley was eliminated prior to the ultimate selection for the position, and an initial polling of the board had Kelly with a slight edge over LeMieux by a margin of 8-5. Ultimately, Kelly walked away with the title of president of FAU.
Kelly has vast academic experience, serving as vice president of economic development at Clemson, where he has worked since 1997.
Kelly went in front of the trustees Friday to make the case for himself as the best fit for the position. During his interview, Kelly expounded on his accomplishments at Clemson, which has risen to a ranking of21st best public university in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.
When asked about his vision for FAU, Kelly said he wants to take advantage of communications, compete globally, and recruit out-of-state students to attend the university.
Graduation rates were also a hot topic at Fridays interviews. Both Kelly and LeMieux focused heavily on how to fix the universitys low four-year graduation rate. Kelly said he wanted to take a deeper look at the rates, divest in what was lowering them and invest in ways to bring them up.
If you want to get better, you have to quit investing in things that dont ... get you better, he said.
Among Kellys other goals: learning about FAUs culture and reaching out to alumni to get them re-engaged in the Florida Atlantic community.
I want to get to know your people. I want to immerse myself in FAU, said Kelly. I want to heal these broken relationships that the institution has. We need to be [making] friends constantly, not losing them.
The board expressed concerns that Kelly didnt have strong ties to Tallahassee, but ultimately seemed confident that he could take the reins and get things moving for FAU.
[Kelly] needs to get up to Tallahassee right away. He needs to shake hands, kiss babies, [and] get us money," said one board member.
Kellys personability was also a talking point at the meeting, where board members explained he had the vibe that made you like him right away.
FAU has been the center of controversy over the last year -- its last president, Mary Jane Saunders, resigned midcontract after a problematic year where she was accused of hitting a student protester with her car. The university also became well-known when a communications professor, James Tracy, called the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a hoax and when another, Deandre Poole, instructed students to stomp on Jesus as part of a classroom exercise.
Now its up to Kelly to help steer the university in the right direction -- a direction he seemed happy to work toward.
"I'm going to roll up my sleeves and get to work," he told the board of trustees. "I'm ready to go."
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.