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Consider 2 senators to lead UF, Bush says

The governor argues the search should expand to include business and political leaders _ not just scholars.

Gov. Jeb Bush says he knows how to jump-start the troubled search for a new University of Florida president: Stop soliciting only career academics and start recruiting other candidates, including U.S. Sens. Connie Mack and Bob Graham.

"The governor thinks the Board of Regents needs to expand its criteria to include a broader range of candidates," said Justin Sayfie, a Bush spokesman.

Sayfie said it makes no sense that neither Mack nor Graham meet the job's minimum qualifications, which include extensive administrative experience in higher education.

"The governor thinks either man would do a fine job," he said.

Spokesmen for Graham and Mack said Friday that their bosses were flattered to be mentioned, but are not interested in leading the state's oldest and largest university. Both senators are graduates of UF.

Several people involved in the search said they think it would be a mistake to change the qualifications for the job, even with the process completely stalled after the recent withdrawal of all six semifinalists.

"The idea from the start has been to get a person with the academic credentials to move the university into the top ranks nationally," said Regent C.B. Daniel, a Gainesville businessman and vice chairman of the search committee. "This would not be a step forward."

Bush offered his suggestion during an interview with the Tampa Tribune. He said he already had talked with university system Chancellor Adam Herbert about expanding the search to include business and political leaders, and specifically suggested Mack and Graham.

Herbert would not comment Friday on what he considers a private conversation. University system spokesman Keith Goldschmidt said the search will continue as planned.

The next step is a June 15 conference call to determine whether interim UF President Charles Young, the retired chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles, will be able to remain at the helm while a new effort is launched.

There is nothing to stop the regents from rewriting the qualifications, even at this late date. But a number of officials said such a move would send the wrong signal about UF's intentions.

They noted that several of the candidates who withdrew their names from consideration said they were troubled by the state Legislature's decision to overhaul Florida's system of higher education governance.

The plan includes eliminating the regents and replacing them with boards of trustees at each university.

Introducing more politics into the process will only make matters worse, said former university system Chancellor E.T. York, who has been assisting with UF's search.

"At this stage in the university's development we need a prominent educator, not someone who has had a career in public service," said York, who said he is friends with both Mack and Graham and holds their abilities in high esteem.

If the criteria change, he said, "the reaction will be very negative, both among the faculty and higher education leaders nationally."

UF faculty members already have made it clear that they expect a top-notch academic to succeed former President John Lombardi, who resigned Nov. 1.

Almost 300 professors recently signed a resolution that declared all the semifinalists unqualified.

Five of the semifinalists are presidents at respected universities. The other is a provost, as was Lombardi when he came to UF.

"We don't object to a discussion about changing the criteria, as long as everyone has a seat at the table," said Joseph Layon, the chairman of UF's Faculty Senate. "What we won't do is roll over and play dead. Not for anyone."