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News Clips 05/16/2013
EDITORIAL: What's next for FAU, given its president's resignation
Source: Sun Sentinel, 05/16/13
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No one likes to see a smart and capable person nudged out of a job, but FAU President Mary Jane Saunders made the right call Wednesday in announcing her decision to resign and step back into a faculty role.
By all accounts, Saunders is a brilliant scientist and a delightful person who gave her heart — and her all — to the university she led for three years.
Saunders can count many successes during her tenure, including the creation of a medical school, the completion of a football stadium, a successful re-accreditation process, prowess in fundraising and advancements in student achievement.
But running a state university is hard-ball business, especially in a competitive urban environment. And in navigating a series of controversies over recent months, Saunders' strengths as an academic failed to measure up for the university's top job.
The seeds of Saunders' resignation were planted in her failed bid to rename the university's football stadium after a private prison company in return for a $6 million gift, dollars she aggressively pushed her staff to seek.
Saunders should have anticipated the backlash, given that the prison company had made news for mistreating inmates. And without question, senior staffers let her down in advising her on how to handle the fallout. It was sad to learn she sought steady police protection on campus because she was fearful of student protesters.
Still, leadership instincts come from within, and in trying to balance competing tensions, Saunders appeared tentative. As a result, members of her board, the university community and the larger region increasingly lost confidence in her.
It didn't help that Saunders had to deal with a wacko professor who twice made national news for doubting the veracity of the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School and later, the Boston Marathon. It's got to be hard to stand up for academic freedom when a protected member of your faculty abuses that freedom to expound crackpot theories. For Saunders, threading that needle took time, a luxury leaders can ill afford in this era of instant news and social media wildfire. For before she knew it, Saunders was digging out from another hole.
In her resignation letter, Saunders cites "the issues and the fiercely negative media coverage" as the reasons behind her decision. She likely counts this editorial board among her critics, given our calls for her to show stronger leadership and improve public relations.
Still, while we were not surprised, we were sorry to hear the news because as we've said, Saunders is a bright, personable and dedicated person who cares deeply about FAU. It's just that for this job at this time, she wasn't the right fit.
Now it's up to the board of trustees to find the university's third president, someone who will continue the gains Saunders made, but without the distractions.
In all likelihood, the trustees will start their search among a pool of academics, given deep-seated expectations among faculty members that their leader have a Ph.D. and be a top researcher.