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Community Input Sought As UWF Recruits New President


The search for Judy Bense’s successor as President of the University of West Florida kicked off Monday with an open forum.

“As members of both the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts about what you’re looking for in our next university president,” said Search Committee Chairman Mort O’Sullivan, who gaveled the public forum into session after a closed-door meeting.

Judy Bense is retiring on Dec. 31, after eight and a half years in the president’s chair. She made the announcement early last year when signing her final contract.

“I’m happy, I’m eager to tie up some things that aren’t done,” Bense said in March, 2015. “And to give the university and the Board of Trustees the best opportunity of all to search for and find the next president.”

Next up after O’Sullivan’s opening remarks was Julie Holley of Greenwood-Asher, a consulting firm based in Miramar Beach which is heading up the search. She told the gathering there were four questions to be answered during the search process.

  • In 3-5 years, what will the new president have to accomplish in order to be viewed as a success?
  • What characteristics and skills are being sought in UWF’s next president?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities?
  • What are things that make the University of West Florida so special?

Holley and an assistant then went around the room with a handheld microphone, to get comments from both UWF faculty and staff. First up, Raid Amin, a mathematics professor for 28 years. His issue is academic respectability.
“There has to be a very strong team between the president, provost, and vice president of academic affairs,” said Amin. “I don’t want to see a president who shifts the academic burden, 100%, to the provost. It has to be a team; someone we can look up to.”

Also speaking was Kali Richardson, a senior at UWF. In three to five years, he would like to see a president who does more to cultivate students’ growth as individuals.

“We have but a short time here to become – just like the individuals in this room – great one day when we grow up,” Richardson said. “So there are some things we’d like to see, as well as the challenges they face. “Diversity on predominately white institutions is a severe issue.

John Fink teaches creative writing, and is chief contract negotiator for the UWF faculty. He said during the school’s 50 years, there’s been growth that is leading to a question about identity.

“On one hand, we’re a regional, comprehensive university that’s required to serve a vast student population,” said Fink. “At the same time our Carnegie classification is [that] of a doctoral research university. I think it will be essential for our next president to be aware of that institutional history.”

Answering the fourth question – what makes you proud of the university – was Susan James from the teacher education and educational leadership department. Her pride is focused on her colleagues.

“What I’m seeing in the service that they’re doing in the community,” said James. “The professors work in the schools. We started a national writing project here this year. [We] just finished a Promise Zone grant and hopefully will help the kids on the west side of town. I have a great amount of pride in that.”

The second forum is set for Tuesday at 10 a.m., again at the UWF Commons Auditorium in Building 22. 

The applications are not expected to be opened until June. If all goes as planned, a new president is scheduled to be named by the end of September, after salary negotiations are completed.