Florida Atlantic University is having the kind of week that might make President John Kelly rethink his plan to retire at the end of the year.
Kelly is a sports fan, having attended and worked at Clemson University in his native South Carolina. One of Kelly’s high school teammates was Stanley Morgan, who played for 23 seasons in the National Football League.
On Saturday, FAU defeated Florida International University 52-7 to retain the Shula Trophy, named for the late Miami Dolphins coach. With FIU in Miami-Dade County, the game has become a regional rivalry. Then on Monday, the Owls men’s basketball team upset the University of Florida.
But the big news for FAU and Kelly was the announcement of two donations totaling $17.5 million, making them among the largest gifts in FAU history. One comes at an especially important time for FAU and the state.
That would be the $10 million donation from Holli Rockwell Trubinsky and her husband, Joseph Trubinsky. It will go to the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. According to a news release, the college will use the money to “sustain exceptional leadership by creating an eminent dean.”
Nursing has long been one of FAU’s premier programs. The gift comes as Florida faces a statewide nursing shortage, caused in part by pandemic burnout.
The Florida Hospital Association calculates that the state will need an additional 59,000 nurses by 2035. The Legislature approved some small measures this year to ease the crisis but spent much more time on culture-war issues in schools.
The second large gift is $7.5 million from Eleanor Baldwin. It will go to the athletic department. FAU’s venue for basketball and gymnastics will become the Eleanor Baldwin Arena. Baldwin previously donated money to build Baldwin House, where the president lives.
New rules for choosing John Kelly’s successor
Speaking of Kelly, the search for his successor will take place under different rules from the search that resulted in his hiring eight years ago.
Back then, the public knew that Kelly—then a vice president at Clemson—was one of three finalists. The open process gave Kelly credibility when he started. People could see why he was the best choice.
This year, though, the Legislature passed—and Gov. DeSantis signed—legislation that allows search committees to keep the names of all finalists private until the announcement of a new president.
We saw the problem that can create when the University of Florida chose Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Kent Fuchs. Search committee members said Sasse was the only finalist and never released names of other applicants whom the committee had considered.
Despite student protests and faculty criticism, UF’s trustees approved Sasse unanimously. Critics claim that DeSantis wanted Sasse and forced UF to go along.
FAU’s trustees might want to take note. The new law doesn’t require that searches be so secretive. It only gives the board that option. Perhaps FAU’s board will choose not to take it, as a favor to the next president.
What’s next for PBC School Board?
With this year’s Palm Beach County School Board races over, it may not be long before people begin to file for the three seats that are up in 2024.
One is District 5, which includes Boca Raton and West Boca. Frank Barbieri has held the seat since 2010, but he does not intend to seek another four-year term. Barbieri has been board chairman through the pandemic and the resulting attacks on board members statewide. He’s clearly had enough.
Unlike some counties, no “parental rights” candidates won any of the 2022 school board races. Plenty of them ran. One took District 6 incumbent Marcia Andrews to a runoff. But Andrews won with 57 percent of the vote.
It will be interesting to see whether similar “culture wars” candidates emerge or whether things swing back to candidates like Barbieri, who focused on education. Though school board races are non-partisan, DeSantis and other Republicans have made public education in Florida a partisan issue.
Low voter turnout from Democrats
Last week, I wrote that Palm Beach County Commissioner Robert Weinroth would not have lost his re-election bid if he had simply received the same number of votes that he did in 2018. Weinroth is a Democrat, and the numbers suggested that he lost because of poor turnout.
Now there’s a stronger suggestion.
According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, in the 165 county precincts where Democrats make up the majority of voters, turnout was 53 percent. Turnout was 20 points higher in precincts where Republican voters make up the majority.
Low Democratic turnout also may have doomed former Boca Raton City Council member Andy Thomson in his Florida House race. It was a historically bad year for county Democrats.