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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

First four Florida Poly trustees are chosen



A former university president, a retired air space analyst, a former member of the Florida Board of Governors and a Polk County lawyer are the first members named to the first governing board of the state's 12th university. Nine open seats remain.

Sandra Featherman, Richard Hallion, Frank Martin and Don Wilson were chosen out of about 50 applicants vying for seats on Florida Polytechnic University's Board of Trustees.

Thursday's appointments, made by the board that oversees the state university system, followed a day-long series of interviews with ten finalists vying for five of those 13 total seats.

"We looked for applicants who had experience in higher education, applicants who had a background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and applicants committed to the idea of creating a new and wide-ranging university based on the existing polytechnic model," said Mori Hosseini, one of the Board of Governors members who conducted the interviews. "We were fortunate to have a number of extremely well-qualified candidates."

The board is responsible for picking a total of five trustees for the university board, and Gov. Rick Scott, who interviewed seven of his own candidates a few weeks ago, will pick six.  Then, the chair of the university's faculty senate and the school's student body president will take two more seats -- as soon as the university has faculty and students, that is.

Hosseini said the board would make a decision on its fifth appointment after seeing the range of people chosen by the governor.

"Once we know what the composition of the rest of the trustees look like, I feel like we will be able to assess the range of the skills, professional experience and cultural diversity of the trustees to determine whether we have any missing piece on the board," Hosseini said.

Even when all its leaders are chosen, the new university will still be a long way from opening its doors. It still needs buildings on its campus, accreditation and academic programs in place.

From the sound of the interview questions Wednesday, the new university could look a lot different than the existing 11 institutions. For one thing, Hosseini repeatedly contemplated the viability of hiring faculty members without the promise of tenure -- at least to start out with. Most applicants were receptive to the idea.

The picks were approved unanimously by the board, but not after one member raised a question about potential political interference.

Sen. Don Gaetz, according to Board of Governors member John Temple, has close ties to Richard Hallion.

"I'm going to assume," Temple said, "you vetted him to the point that he said he wasn't being promoted by somebody in the Legislature." 

Hosseini assured Temple that there was no meddling by Gaetz. 

"I will honestly tell you, I have never received a call from Sen. Gaetz (on the matter)," he said. "For the good of the future of the university, we want to make sure Polytechnic stays away from any politics."

That'd be a new phenomenon.

Florida Polytechnic made its way into existence largely thanks to the pushing of Senate budget chairman JD Alexander. Alexander, a Polk County Republican who just completed his final term in the Senate, lobbied the Board of Governors to create the institution out of the Lakeland branch campus formerly attached to the University of South Florida beginning last year. Then during the legislative session he pushed a bill that short-cut the independence path the Board of Governors agreed upon, then he helped convince the Governor to sign off on it.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 11:40am]


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