The committee tasked with choosing Florida Atlantic University’s next president turned down state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday.
Former U.S. Senator George LeMieux and two academics were named as finalists for the job.
The surprising decision ended days of speculation over who Gov. Rick Scott would choose to replace Atwater in the Florida Cabinet.
“As I said to my staff about accepting an invitation to apply, my passion for serving as Florida’s CFO and my commitment to working with my great colleagues for years to come remains undiminished,” Atwater wrote in a statement Friday.
The FAU selection committee had doubts about including a politician among the finalists.
“The perception out there might be that this is a politically arranged deal,” said member Dick Schmidt, president and CEO of Schmidt Companies.
Schmidt said an experienced politican would bring “baggage” to the university, and might struggle to win over the faculty and philanthropic community.
But FAU Trustee Abdol Moabery said experience in Tallahassee would be an asset.
“For 20 years, I have watched all the funding go to UF [the University of Florida] and FSU [Florida State University], and later USF [the University of South Florida] and UCF [the University of Central Florida], and frankly I’m tired of it,” Moabery said. “We do need a powerhouse. We need someone who knows this legislature.”
The other two finalists are John Kelly, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, and Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University.