The pool of candidates to succeed Dr. Judy Bense as President of the University of West Florida has been narrowed down to four. At a meeting of the Presidential Search Committee Tuesday morning, a motion to approve the final candidates was approved by a 14 to 6 vote. Those four candidates, Frank Ashley, Don Gaetz, Martha Saunders and Mike Sherman will return to the university campus for final meetings and interview sessions beginning this weekend. Committee Chair Mort O’Sullivan says things will move rather quickly over the next 10 days. He says the first candidate will start the next step with dinner this Sunday evening. They will meet on campus with all four ending with dinner on Wednesday evening.
During Tuesday morning’s meeting, seven current and former members of the UWF staff and faculty spoke during the public comment session. Most spoke against Senator Gaetz. Dr. Jonathon Fink, an associate professor in the Department of English spoke out against Gaetz support for allowing guns on campus. "When there is an active shooter on a college campus, university police are trained to isolate the shooter and respond accordingly. When civilians with firearms are introduced into the situation, the clarity and efficacy of the police response are undermined and, in my opinion, the lives of those we love who serve on a university or college campus are further endangered."
Also speaking out against Senator Gaetz was Dr. Ramie Gougeon, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UWF. "I'm a little alarmed at the warm response that Mr. Gaetz is receiving from the committee and from reports in the press. His ideas, which range from the unproven notion that universities should be run like businesses, the dismissal of research outside of commercial applications, to advocating for guns on campus. These ideas are nothing short of radically detrimental to the long term survival of this university."
In the end, Gaetz made the final four along with UWF Provost Martha Saunders. There are two finalists from out of town. One is Frank Ashley, who is currently serving as an executive with the College Board, the company that, among other things, runs the SAT test. Mort O'Sullivan says "he impressed the majority of us on the committee to vote to see him come back again to visit. He was very astute and...conducted himself very well on his interview last week."
The fourth finalist is William "Mike" Sherman. "He is at the University of Akron [Ohio], and carried himself tremendously well during the interview process and I could see [then] and heard again today from the comments, I'm not at all surprised that he has been included to be asked to visit us on our second round of interviews."
Those interviews will be followed by the final meeting for the search committee on Thursday morning, September 15, immediately followed by a special meeting of the UWF Board of Trustees where they will choose the next President of the University of West Florida.