Controversy Dogs Another Florida Campus Presidential SearchBreaking News
tags: Florida, higher education
In the wake of several contentious presidential searches across the state, Florida Gulf Coast University is set to choose its next leader Thursday. But some students and staff and faculty members worry that there’s an invisible political thumb on the scale for one candidate.
That candidate is Henry Mack III, a senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education and one of four people vying for the post. The others are Neil J. MacKinnon, provost of Augusta University, in Georgia; Joseph A. Morgan, president of Morehead State University, in Kentucky; and Aysegul Timur, vice president for strategy at Florida Gulf Coast.
Some on campus have concerns about Mack: among them, his public writings and statements, which indicate he agrees with Florida Republicans’ belief that American higher education has gone gravely awry and needs correcting; and his academic record, which is thinner than the other finalists’.
“Is this a legitimate, open search where every candidate has the same opportunity to be offered the position? A lot of people don’t think so,” said Carolynne Gischel, an assistant professor in the department of teacher-preparation programs and president of the faculty union. “He doesn’t seem of the same caliber as the other candidates, and so it seems odd that he’s in this final pool.”
Mack didn’t return emails or a call asking for comment. Contacted through a spokesperson for Florida Gulf Coast University, the chairs of the presidential search advisory committee and Board of Trustees declined to speak with The Chronicle. Grace Brannigan, recently the student-body president who served as the student representative to the search advisory committee and Board of Trustees, expressed trust in the process.
“Having spent a year on the board, I think that the Board of Trustees, the vast majority of them do genuinely care about making the best decision for FGCU,” she said. “You have to lead the horse to water and tell them what it is that the community actually believes to be the best decision.”
Brannigan also confirmed that many students were concerned about Mack’s candidacy but that they believed the hiring process was legitimate.
Mack is not a career politician, but he has been closely associated with DeSantis’s aggressive approach to higher education.
At the same time, he seems to believe academe is deeply broken. In a February interview with City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, he argued that postmodern thinking and the questioning of truth have taken over American higher education. That has “left the academy — and, by extension, potentially Western Civilization itself — in ruin.” The solution, he said, is a common curriculum grounded in the “Great Books of Western Civilization,” which would help create “informed, virtuous citizens.”
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