TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who appeared on his way to an easy re-election this fall, announced Saturday that he wants to become the next president of Florida Atlantic University.
Atwater said in an email to his staff that he has a “unique and special affinity” with the Boca Raton-based school and he had been approached to seek the post. FAU’s board of trustees is expected to choose a new president Jan. 17.
“After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to place my name into consideration for this position,” Atwater wrote.
Atwater joins nearly 50 other people seeking the job, but Florida has a lengthy history of turning to high-powered politicians to run its public universities since state schools are heavily reliant on state money and support from the Florida Legislature. Former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan held the job of FAU president from 2003 to 2009.
Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement that Atwater that has the “experience and skill to be an outstanding president.”
“While the school will no doubt consider multiple, qualified, prestigious candidates for the job, FAU would be well served to have a leader like Jeff at the helm,” Scott said.
A university search committee is scheduled to meet Monday to pick eight candidates for interviews.
His decision to seek the job was first reported by the Palm Beach Post. Atwater did not respond to a request for comment.
If Atwater gets the job as expected, Scott will get to name a replacement until a successor is elected.
Atwater’s decision to bypass a second term would likely create a series of ripples throughout Floridapolitics as both Republicans and Democrats weigh whether to seek the job of chief financial officer. There were already rumblings on Saturday about whether current legislative leaders may run for the position.
The job isn’t as high profile as governor or attorney general, but the chief financial officer plays a key role in monitoring state finances, investments and regulating the insurance industry.
Atwater had raised more than $800,000 in cash for his re-election despite having one relatively unknown Democratic opponent who has received less than $200 in donations. If he doesn’t get picked, he would keep his job as CFO.
“We have accomplished much together and the thought of working alongside you for years to come remains as exciting as ever,” he said in the email to staff.
Atwater, who was state Senate president before he ran for chief financial officer, has two children who graduated from FAU and another daughter who is enrolled there. Atwater backed FAU’s bid to get a new medical school while he was in the Legislature.
The school, which has more than 30,000 students, has been without a permanent president since last May. Mary Jane Saunders resigned amid a series of controversies that had rocked the school. Saunders said at the time that “fiercely negative media coverage” forced her to decide to step down for the university’s benefit.
The problems included protests over a $6 million plan to allow a for-profit prison company, Geo Group, the naming rights at the FAU football stadium. Geo Group later withdrew its offer. Others problems were an instructor’s lesson in which students were told to stomp on papers containing the word “Jesus” and a professor’s suggestions that the Newtown school killings and Boston Marathon bombings were hoaxes.
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