Florida A&M University is one of three Florida universities in the process of searching for a new president with an aggressive timeline to vet and interview candidates over the holiday break. The school’s current plan calls for the school's Board of Trustees to name a new president as early as Jan. 8.
Today, former state Sen. Al Lawson confirmed that he will apply for the job. If he gets it, he’ll add to the growing trend of politicians being hired to lead public universities.
Former Jacksonville mayor John Delaney is president of the University of North Florida. Frank Brogan stepped down as lieutenant governor to become president at Florida Atlantic University. Betty Castor served in the Florida Senate and on the Hillsborough County Commission before becoming president of the University of South Florida.
And it’s not just Florida. Former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor, was named president of the 10-campus University of California system this summer.
Lawson, 65, is an alum of FAMU one of its most prominent advocates. In fact, the school’s gymnasium is named after him. In addition to serving 10 years in the Florida Senate and 18 in the state House, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and 2012. He recently announced that he would not run again in 2014.
Lawson has a budding career as a lobbyist but said the bulk of his professional experience is as an insurance agent and broker.
He said he reached the decision to apply for the FAMU presidency just this week after being encouraged by others to apply. The school needs an apt fundraiser, who can help recruit students and has the connections among the elected officials who control the purse strings at the Capitol, he said.
“I don’t know anyone who can do that any better than I can,” Lawson said.
Lawson said he has some ideas for moving FAMU forward. For example, he thinks the state’s only historically black public university should be reaching out to students who normally wouldn’t consider enrolling.
“FAMU is at a critical point to move forward in creating more diversity in the student body,” Lawson said, adding that the school should look to enroll more “non-minorities.” FAMU is about 95 percent African-American, according to collegedata.com.
Another name that has been floated as a potential candidate at FAMU is Ava Parker, currently the interim leader at Florida Polytechnic University. That school is in the process of picking its own permanent head, which means Parker is looking for her next role.
If she doesn’t apply at FAMU, there is also a chance she could apply to become the next president at Florida Atlantic University. That school is located in Boca Raton, which would put her closer to her husband, state Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.
Then again, we hear she might have to battle former U.S. Senate George LeMieux for that job.
Of course, there are others who believe FAMU trustees should make interim president Larry Robinson the permanent leader after he guided the school through a tumultuous period that not only included academic and administrative problems but the fallout from the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. But, so far, the board has not indicated they will take this route and Robinson has not campaigned it.