Here’s more from The Boca Interview with the new president of Florida Atlantic University.
You had opportunities to pursue the president’s chair at other universities over the years. What piqued your interest about this opportunity at this particular time?
I was reaching a stage in my career where the president of Clemson was leaving; I’d worked with him for 14 years. The provost that I’d worked with for 13 of those years had left. … I’d been a VP for 17 years. It felt like a good time to look for something different.
So I looked at what was open. … Texas A&M was open, and I was asked to look at that. There were openings at Memphis, College of Charleston, Southern Alabama, and then Florida Atlantic. … I didn’t know anyone here. Nobody in Boca. Nobody who worked at the college. I had no clue [about the college] except what I could learn from the Web and my consultants.
Most of the colleges [that had openings] were really heavy on teaching and light on research. FAU has a significant research program, which was really intriguing to me. College of Charleston would have been easy for me; my wife and I had a house there, but they didn’t have a significant research program at the time.
Also, I didn’t want to be cold again. This is probably the place I’ll stay, so I want it to be a town that’s fun to be in, as well as a good university.
When you were hired, one of the trustees described it as the “safer choice” because of your academic background. What would you say to anyone who questions your ability to work with Tallahassee lawmakers to get done what needs to get done on behalf of FAU?
I went to Tallahassee two of the first three weeks I was here, and then again a few weeks later. … I had no relationships there. I didn’t know a soul. I found out there are two Clemson grads in the legislature, so that was a good place to start—and they were actually very helpful in introducing me to other people. …
We need to continually prove ourselves over and over and over. We can’t, in any way, take for granted that we’re understood. We need constant efforts and making sure [legislators] understand where we’re going and benchmarking ourselves so they know what we’ve done since they last met us.
To borrow a publishing term, is it daunting after all these years to be on top of the masthead?
It’s liberating, actually. … I’m used to working in a team environment. And at Clemson, that team would not let a project fail. And they wouldn’t let anyone else on the team fail. They’d pick each other up and do the things necessary to succeed. They cared that much, they had that much passion. I could step out of those teams, and the team knew exactly what to do.
That’s what I’m trying to build here. I [shouldn’t] have to be in the room for everything. I know exactly what’s going to happen in the room. No alpha male or alpha female is going to jump in take over these people; they won’t let it happen.
I’m not an alpha male. I’m about building something that this university can be proud of. Everyone who populates that room will have to be of that ilk. It will have to be about “us,” not “me.”
What does the medical school at FAU have to do to take the next step and elevate itself to a level with other great medical colleges in the South?
The university has to invest more in it. This program we have with the residencies [involving several area hospitals] is very unique; we’re committed to working closely with Boca Regional and building collaboratively what we can do together. Dr. Levy, the new head of the neuroscience program, will be a key part of the relationship of building both a clinical and research side.
To build a great medical school, you have to find talent—and you’re competing against the heavyweights of the heavyweights. A huge part of my job, along with raising money for the college, will be raising talent. By that, I mean it’s a day-and-night difference if you get the right person or you don’t. … This place sells itself pretty well. But as you begin to build a culture where the best of the best are here, other people then want to be a part of it.