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Will AT&T's Criser be the next university system chancellor?


He has the business background, political connections and the pedigree. Could Marshall Criser III, the president of AT&T in Florida, be the next chancellor of Florida's state university system?

Even under the speedy timetable outlined by the search committee, it's still early in the process. But Criser's name is coming up most often during whispered conversations about the job and who may apply.

Criser, who lives in Coral Gables, declined to speak with the Times/Herald Monday. Board of Governors spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said eight applications and a number of inquires have been fielded already, but declined to identify Criser specifically.

"The pool of applications already includes a wide range of individuals with experience in higher education, business and government," she said via email. "As is the case with high profile searches, we expect the bulk of the applications to come in as we get closer to the October deadline."

Several folks with knowledge of the process say Criser is the man to beat, though they are still keeping an open mind that an even stronger candidate could surface before Oct. 31.

Criser has worked for AT&T or one of its predecessor companies his entire career. One of Florida's most visible businessmen, he serves on the Florida Chamber of Commerce board, the Florida Council of 100 and Enterprise Florida board. He is also the former chairman of Florida TaxWatch and was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the state's Transportation Commission.

He was appointed to the University of Florida Board of Trustees in 2010 and also is a member of the Scripps Research Institute board. Criser also serves on the state's Higher Education Coordinating Council and the board of Miami-Dade College's Foundation.

He earned a bachelor's in business administration from UF in 1980 and later completed some management training in France. The lack of any advanced degree is the one dark spot on his resume and could lead to lukewarm support from university professors and faculty members.

However, no one seems to think it will ultimately be held against Criser. The chancellor's job is largely managerial and political. He has a strong working relationship with Gov. Rick Scott and is well liked by lawmakers. Besides, his supporters say, Criser could rely on a strong academic as his No. 2.

He won't have to go far if he needs advice. His father, Marshall Criser Jr., was UF's president from 1984 to 1989. The elder Criser also served on the state's Board of Regents, the group that preceeded the current Board of Governors structure. After Bush reorganized the state's higher education system, Criser Jr. was named the founding chairman of UF's Board of Trustees.

There are other names who have been bouncing around the rumor mill, including former State Rep. Bill Proctor, who turned down requests to serve as interim leader of the state university system. Ava Parker, the interim president at Florida Polytechnic University, also may be eyeing the chancellor job. That school recently launched a national search for its founding president, and applications are due Dec. 31.