Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Two deans at college of limited knowledge

Forgive an unsolicited piece of academic advice, but perhaps Florida Atlantic University might consider creating the Harold Stassen School for Advanced Studies of Politicians on Their Last Elective Legs.

And who better to co-chair this scholarly discipline in honor of the late Minnesota politician known for perpetually running and losing campaigns than Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and the former accidental U.S. Sen. George LeMieux?

Both men threw their hubris into the ring for the presidency of FAU even though they have less higher education management experience than Animal House's Bluto Blutarsky. And what a surprise. On Monday the FAU presidential selection committee named Atwater and LeMieux to their list of 10 candidates to interview.

Why get all lathered up with a bunch of egghead Ph.D's when FAU could eenie-meenie-miney-moe between Atwater or LeMieux? Both the CFO and the former accidental senator claim they have been wooed to apply for the FAU position by the university itself.

Memo to those applicants with university experience on the interview list, including the University of Kentucky law school dean and administrators from Purdue University and the University of Connecticut: Don't sell your coats and mittens. You have less chance of getting the job than Greg Schiano does landing another NFL head coaching gig.

There would seem to be more than home cooking at play here. This is an ivory tower bacchanal of cronyism.

If Atwater and LeMieux are to be believed, even with more than 60 original applicants for the post including provosts, deans and presidents of universities, FAU potentates reached out to two politicians with virtually no higher education experience to assume the presidency of a university with nearly 25,000 students.

Do not cue the Goodbye, Mr. Chips theme.

Over the years, Florida public universities have reached into the political ranks to fill presidential openings. The University of South Florida hired former legislator Betty Castor as president. Florida State University tapped former Florida House Speaker T.K. Wetherell and Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who also served in the Florida House. FAU president Frank Brogan served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush.

But what distinguishes them from Atwater and LeMieux is that they had education experience. Castor was a former teacher and Brogan was a former teacher and school superintendent, and both were state education commissioners. Wetherell, who has a doctorate in education administration, cut his teeth as president of Tallahassee Community College. D'Alemberte was dean of the FSU law school.

Atwater was never known for being consumed with education policy as a legislator, focusing instead on banking and finance issues. Indeed, his official biography posted on the CFO's website only mentions the word "education" once. He's in favor of it.

As for his commitment to education, LeMieux last year announced the creation of the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The center no doubt offers instruction on how to get a friend elected governor, persuade him to appoint you to the United States Senate and then stab him in the back.

The center also includes LeMieux's vast collection of Senate papers collected during his 20 minutes in the upper chamber. The to-do list that includes picking up Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Lhasa apso from the groomer must be riveting history.

It's understandable why the FAU post is appealing. Atwater could easily be re-elected CFO, but his chances of being governor are slim. LeMieux's potential political career is about as bright as Liz Cheney's.

By courting both Atwater and LeMieux, FAU clearly wants a president who knows his way around Tallahassee and fundraising — if not around the chemistry lab or the English department.

And if that's the only reason to consider these two chaps — who, prior to discovering their inner Paper Chase's professor Kingsfield, buffed their higher education credentials by watching Good Will Hunting — then FAU ought to simply dispense with any pretense of scholarly pursuits and simply go after Donald Trump.

Then again, maybe they already have and not even The Donald knows about it because he's on FAU's double secret recruitment.

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