University of Florida president selected: Cornell provost W. Kent Fuchs

University of Florida president-elect W. Kent Fuchs speaks during a news conference at Emerson Alumni Hall in Gainesville on Wednesday. Fuchs, Cornell University’s provost, was unanimously selected to be the university’s 12th president. 
University of Florida president-elect W. Kent Fuchs speaks during a news conference at Emerson Alumni Hall in Gainesville on Wednesday. Fuchs, Cornell University’s provost, was unanimously selected to be the university’s 12th president. 
Published Oct. 16, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Cornell University provost W. Kent Fuchs, who wasn't even a candidate until Friday, was chosen to become the 12th president of the University of Florida on Wednesday morning.

He expects to begin his new job in January, pending approval by the state Board of Governors in November.

Fuchs — pronounced "fox" — and New York University provost David W. McLaughlin were the two finalists who interviewed Wednesday morning. But the 59-year-old Fuchs' enthusiasm and Ivy League connections won out.

"He clearly stood out as a true academic leader," trustee Chairman Steven Scott said in a news conference to introduce Fuchs to the "Gator Nation."

Unlike rival Florida State University, UF insisted on hiring a candidate with a strong academic background. After a controversial search, FSU hired state Sen. John Thrasher as its president in September. He is expected to take office in November, making a base salary of $430,000.

UF president Bernie Machen is retiring in December.

The search for his replacement was much quieter than the tumultuous one at FSU. But at UF, it was the lack of discussion that has renewed criticism over how Florida's universities conduct presidential searches. Top candidates often wait until late in the process to apply in order to delay their names from becoming public under state open records laws.

State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, and state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, sponsored bills this year that would have allowed universities to begin their searches in private but required finalists' names to be vetted for at least 10 days before a final vote.

The measure died in the Senate without a single hearing but passed overwhelmingly in the House. Kerner said he won't try again in the 2015 session.

Trustees voted to hire Fuchs unanimously and without discussion five days after he applied and two days after making him a finalist. There was no opportunity for public comment during the meeting.

Scott indicated at the news conference that he had been in contact with Fuchs for some time, though his name didn't surface as an applicant until Friday. He was the only candidate who waited so long to apply.

Fuchs, a graduate of Miami Killian Senior High School who has family in South Florida, called the UF job a homecoming and said he will soon add more orange and blue to his wardrobe. He and his wife, Linda, will move into a brand-new $3.1 million presidential mansion on the campus.

"I'm so excited and enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of this university," he said. "It is an amazing place, and we're so pleased that we have this opportunity to be a part of your community."

Ranked 48th among all universities by U.S. News & World Report, UF is currently 14th among public universities but wants to move into the top 10. Cornell, a private school in Ithaca, N.Y., with half the number of students, was ranked 15th overall.

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Fuchs' base salary is expected to be in the $500,000 range annually, though with bonuses and other benefits it could reach $1 million.

He has served as Cornell's chief academic and operating officer for six years, overseeing a $2.2 billion budget and 6,600 employees. He has helped the institution work toward its goal of becoming a top 10 American university and improving its academic standing.

Fuchs has also been credited with improving the diversity of Cornell staff. One of the people he hired and later used as a reference on his application to UF is Florida A&M University president Elmira Mangum.

Before becoming provost he was dean of Cornell's College of Engineering. He has also worked as a professor at Purdue University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Fuchs earned doctorate and master's degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois, a master of divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1984, and a bachelor of science in engineering in 1977 from Duke University.

Hours after he was named UF's next president, the search website was replaced by one dedicated to Fuchs, including a picture of him doing the "gator chomp" with mascots.

Contact Tia Mitchell at (850) 224-7263 or Follow @tbtia.