Ray Rodrigues among those who have applied to lead Florida's public university system

The state Board of Governors is seeking a replacement for retiring Chancellor Marshall Criser, who has held the position since 2014.

A view of University Center at Florida State University.

A view of University Center at Florida State University. Image by Ernie A. Stephens from Pixabay

A former Republican Senate leader, the chief business officer of Emory University’s college of theology and the deputy provost of a university in Ireland are among the applicants vying to head the state’s higher-education system.

The state Board of Governors is seeking a replacement for retiring Chancellor Marshall Criser. A former president of AT&T Florida and onetime chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Criser has held the position since 2014.

Criser announced in June that he would step down at the end of this year, prompting the board to name a search committee tasked with finding a new leader for the state’s network of 12 universities. Applications for the post were due Friday.

The applicants include Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who announced in June that he would not seek reelection to his Southwest Florida Senate seat, a move that spurred heavy speculation that Rodrigues was angling for a lofty position in higher education.

Rodrigues submitted his application for the chancellor job on July 13, about two weeks after Criser’s announcement.

“Under Chancellor Kriser (sic), the State University System has achieved unapparelled (sic) success; Florida is recognized as the top higher education system in the nation. The bar has been set high. However, I believe you will find that my 14 years of experience in business, 16 years of experience in higher education administration and 10 years of experience in the Legislature have prepared me for the challenge of leading the State University System to new heights of success,” Rodrigues wrote in a cover letter addressed to Board of Governors Chairman Brian Lamb, who heads the search committee tasked with finding a new chancellor.

Rodrigues was elected to the Senate in 2020 and became a top lieutenant of outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. He also served for eight years in the state House.

Rodrigues’ application also detailed some of the roles that he has held in his 16 years working at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“For the first decade I served as a Business Manager in the College of Arts and Sciences working on budget and finance. Then, I transitioned over to university Community Relations. Finally, for the past three years I served in an executive role reporting directly to the President, working on Interagency Partnerships,” Rodrigues said.

FGCU is one of four state universities that is seeking a new president, along with the University of Florida, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University.

In his application, Rodrigues touted legislation that he has helped shepherd in previous years, such as a measure that he said increased award amounts for the state’s Bright Futures scholarship program.

Rodrigues in the past few years also has carried legislation that has drawn objections from university faculty.

Rodrigues sponsored a 2021 measure, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that requires colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus. The law is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit.

During the 2022 legislative session this spring, Rodrigues sponsored another bill, also approved by DeSantis, that authorized the Board of Governors to create a new system of reviewing professors’ tenure.

While Rodrigues is expected to be the leading candidate in the chancellor search, several higher-education professionals from colleges and universities around the nation were among the eight applicants who had submitted resumes as of late Friday afternoon.

The applicants include Lori W. Cromwell, chief business officer for Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta; John Martin, a former dean of Dallas College’s School of Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies; George A. Stalliard, Sr., vice president for finance and administration at Lane Community College in Oregon; and Mark Schweitzer, vice president of Health Affairs at Wayne State University.

The opportunity to head the state’s 430,000-student university system also attracted some international candidates.

Charalabos “Haris” Doumanidis, deputy provost at University College Dublin in Ireland, and Ramesh Chandra, professor in the department of Chemistry at the University of Delhi in India and a founder and director of the university’s center for biomedical research, also applied.

An eighth candidate, Lambert Kamba, submitted a quirky resume in which Kamba claimed to have worked as an "expert consultant in scientific research in the office of the USA presidency” from 2009 through 2017. Kamba listed President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama as references.

The Board of Governors’ chancellor search committee is slated to meet on Wednesday.

A description of the job posted on the state university system’s website indicated that the Board of Governors is seeking a chancellor who can communicate effectively with the state Legislature.

“The selected candidate will be a proven leader with executive-level experience in education, government, business or non-profit settings. A track record of involvement in complex higher educational and political environments is essential to effectively serve the Board of Governors as the System continues on a path toward greater coordination, collaboration and prominence,” the description said.

This is a free News Service of Florida story for City & State Florida readers. For more of the most comprehensive and in-depth political and policy news, consider a subscription, beginning with a 10-day free trial. Click here to sign up!

NEXT STORY: Crist, Salazar rely heavily on remote voting while campaigning