A tough sell.
That's how one member of the University of Florida's Board of Trustees characterized the open presidency at the state's flagship university.
"It's not like it's been in the past," said Al Warrington, in a brief torrent of heated remarks capping off a board conference call about the search on Thursday. "We've got a whole new world ahead of us."
Given the recent drain of state funding to the university system, in addition to a loss of money for new construction and growing pressure on schools to prove their worth, attracting a strong leader to replace the highly regarded Bernie Machen will be difficult.
It will be difficult enough that Warrington all but insisted the search be done out of the sunshine — in other words, in secret.
The idea is that sitting presidents at other universities might be reluctant to publicly throw in their names as candidates for fear of jeopardizing their positions. The concern comes up frequently in Florida, which has particularly open public records laws.
Machen, who took over in 2004 and has an annual salary of more than $400,000, announced last month that he planned to leave by the end of next year, when his contract runs out.
"Bernie is going to be tough enough to replace, but we need to find somebody in a different environment than in the sunshine," Warrington said. "We need people with Bernie under the radar screen doing the search."
Speaking of under the radar, most of those comments weren't even heard by many people who had tuned in to the meeting.
Warrington's remarks came just as the meeting was adjourning, with board chairman David Brown bidding the trustees goodbye. Phones could be heard clicking out as Warrington continued.
In a room in UF's administration building — where Machen, a handful of UF leaders and a couple of reporters had gathered to listen in together via speakerphone — someone hung up.
Meanwhile, still on the phone, Warrington suggested putting up money to pay for Machen to travel around the country recruiting his successor. He indicated that a similar deal was worked out when Machen was chosen.
Brown assured him that they would explore all options, then hurried him off the phone.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or 813-226-3337.