Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Education

A conversation with Marshall Criser III, Florida's new state university system chancellor

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TALLAHASSEE — New state university system chancellor Marshall Criser III has been on the job one week, enough time to see one Florida university win a national football championship and another hire its first female president.

The multitude of issues and topics that have already come across Criser's desk is among the many things that have surprised him about what he calls his dream job. The Times/Herald sat down with Criser on Monday to talk about his vision for the state's 12 public universities and the business and personal experiences he brings to the job.

There is ongoing debate about whether students should attend college with the intent of getting a high-paying job after graduation versus pursing their interests and curiosities. What do you think is the balance between the two?

"When you think about it, it is the student who pursues the degree and makes decisions about what they want to study. It ultimately will be the student who decides what point they want to enter the workforce and what type of career that they want to engage in. And so that is what makes it a very natural discussion to think about the connection between higher education and workforce. I think it's also important to understand that young people today aren't like people like me who spent 33 years with one company. Many times, they may pursue different types of jobs in their lifetime and may have several different employers."

Gov. Rick Scott has encouraged universities to keep tuition flat, even asking them to reject a 1.7 percent increase built into state law and tied to inflation. What are your thoughts about tuition increases, especially in years when the state is providing more money to universities?

"My focus is on investment in higher education. We've got to be sensitive and aware of all of the stakeholders that are involved in that conversation. And that includes Florida students and their parents, it includes Florida taxpayers, it clearly includes our elected officials who make a lot of the decisions around funding for higher education. … And so to me the important part is to focus first on what's the level of the investment that is required to deliver excellence and make sure our students have access. And then from that you get into a conversation about who pays."

How do you plan to build upon and manage your relationships with Gov. Scott and legislators, especially when they don't always agree?

"I believe that regardless of your background or your position or your political affiliation, people universally believe that education is important. From that, you get a lot of conversations. And you get different perspectives on how you accomplish the importance of education. I believe that my role, the opportunity … is to connect the dots for all of those stakeholders in understanding that we start (out) agreeing. Sometimes there are discussions in the middle, but that we can come together in agreement around the priority for higher education. But I think we've also got to be responsible to what their sensitivities and their priorities are."

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