Former state Senate President Don Gaetz is among four candidates scheduled for on-campus interviews next week as the University of West Florida nears completion of its search for a new president.
The university's Presidential Search Committee met Tuesday and picked Gaetz along with Martha Saunders, a University of West Florida provost and vice president, Frank Ashley, a vice president with The College Board, and William M. "Mike" Sherman, a vice president and provost at The University of Akron, as the candidates who will be on the Pensacola campus for final interviews beginning Sunday.
Each candidate will spend a day at the 13,000-student school, with the last interview conducted next Wednesday. The following day, the search committee, guided in part by post-interview surveys of its members as well as the campus community, will select at least three candidates for consideration by the university Board of Trustees.
The trustees will pick a president to succeed Judy Bense, who is stepping down at the end of this year.
Gaetz, who has a master's degree from Troy State University, has the least university academic experience of the candidates, but he has extensive experience in the business world, having help found a hospice company that became a $500 million enterprise. He has academic experience as the former superintendent of schools in nearby Okaloosa County and as a former member of the county's school board.
Gaetz's strength is his political background, including serving as Senate president from 2012 to 2014. He has a deep understanding of the budget process for state universities, most recently chairing the Senate budget subcommittee on education spending. He is also a proven fund-raiser, another requirement for a university president.
Saunders has the strongest academic leadership experience, serving previously as president of the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
With a doctorate from Florida State University, Saunders also has deep ties to UWF, where she began teaching in 1984, rising to a professorship and then becoming dean of the College of Arts Sciences in 2000. She left in 2002 to take a vice president post at Columbus State University.
She served two years as president of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and then five years as president of the University of Southern Mississippi. She returned to UWF as the provost in 2013.
With a doctorate from the University of Alabama, Ashley has been with The College Board since 2013, working as a vice president. He has extensive experience at Texas A&M University, where he began teaching in 1986 rising to a professorship and then chancellor in 2007. He also served as the chief of staff at the school.
Sherman has a doctorate from the University of Texas. His longest academic stint was at The Ohio State University, where he began teaching in 1985, becoming a professor in 1993. He moved to The University of Akron, where he has served as chief operating officer and vice president for innovation and economic development.
UWF is one of at least three Florida universities looking for a new president.
Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers is in the process of selecting a president, with a tentative deadline of Nov. 8 for its applicants. The school's Board of Trustees is expected to pick a new university leader by December.
The Board of Trustees at Florida A&M University is expected to debate a proposal next week for ending Elmira Mangum's presidency. The trustees previously refused to extend Mangum's contract, which ends in April. Mangum's departure will necessitate a presidential search, although the trustees have not made any decisions about the time frame.