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Broward College Board appoints DeSantis ally as new interim president

Henry Mack is interviewed for the Broward College interim President position at the Fort Lauderdale campus on Tuesday. Mack is an education lobbyist, a former Broward College administrator, a former state education chancellor.
Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel
The Broward College Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to appoint Henry Mack III as the acting president of the school, the state's second-largest public college. He had served as the college’s associate dean for Academic Affairs from 2014-2018 and as an Associate Vice President from 2018-2019.

The Broward College Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to appoint Henry Mack III as the acting president of the school, the state's second-largest public college.

“This is my home. This is where I was born and raised. So the idea that I would come back and serve the community that I love is really, on the one hand exciting but also really humbling,“ Mack said.

He had served as the college’s associate dean for Academic Affairs from 2014-2018 and as an Associate Vice President from 2018-2019.

In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Mack to serve as chancellor of the Florida Department of Education. He then moved up to senior chancellor before becoming a lobbyist last June for the Southern Group-Florida, specializing on education issues.

Mack is rejoining Broward College following the abrupt resignation of former president Gregory Haile. He cited changes to the Board of Trustees — four of the five members were appointed by DeSantis — as his reason for leaving.

As acting president, Mack faces major challenges. The college is facing a 28% drop in student enrollment; a fight to secure funding from Tallahassee; and, whether to bring back athletic programs dropped during the pandemic.

“I do not want to merely be an interim solution to problems that exist. But… position the college for long-term viability,” Mack told the board during his interview. He later confirmed he would seek a permanent appointment to the job.

Another looming issue: Broward College is about to go through accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges — an organization DeSantis has criticized in recent months.

READ MORE: Broward College trustees accept President Gregory Haile's resignation

In June, DeSantis lambasted the organization for having too much authority and no accountability. He filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for what he said was allowing higher education accreditation groups to "threaten" the status of state universities without oversight.

Mack said the organization "has had a monopoly on institutions and has to some extent over-exerted its authority."

"I would say that that's horrible for innovation and freedom at the local level,“ he added.

Yet another contentious issue for Mack is low faculty morale, due to low pay and poor communication between administrators and faculty, according to members of the faculty senate who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting.

Tallahassee connections

In selecting Mack, Broward trustees noted his time working with the state Department of Education was a positive factor. The college receives more than half its funding from the state and said they will look for Mack to use the relationships he has built in Tallahassee to grow that funding.

“The knowledge base that you absorb by working in the Capitol is something that you cannot learn remotely,” said Board Chair Alexis Yarbrough. “Bringing that experience and those connections and those relationships to our college is something that I don't think can be replicated by someone who hasn't had that experience.”

In Tallahassee, Mack spent more than two years as the state education department's chancellor, overseeing higher education. In 2021, he was promoted to senior chancellor, a position he held until June of this year when he joined the lobby firm, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Ties to Governor DeSantis

Mack was a finalist to serve as president of Florida Gulf Coast University.

Mack’s appointment is another in a pattern of the conservative governor’s political allies gaining leadership in higher education:

  • At New College of Florida, former House speaker and DeSantis’ commissioner of education, Richard Corcoran, was named interim president by a board controlled by recent DeSantis appointees. Corcoran is Mack’s former boss in the education department.
  • At South Florida State College, former State Rep. Fred Hawkins was recently hired as president, despite not having a master’s degree or higher education experience.
  • At Florida Atlantic University, the State University System’s Board of Governors suspended the search for a president, citing ‘anomalies,’ after state Rep. Randy Fine, of Brevard County, wasn’t selected as a finalist. DeSantis had endorsed Fine.

During Tuesday’s meeting Eugene Pettis, a prominent Black attorney based in Fort Lauderdale, spoke about the concerns he and others had with Mack serving under DeSantis, who banned state public colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Mack was not in the room during this comment but, when asked about it by a reporter after the meeting, defended the governor.

“To the extent that DEI means that we are pre-ordaining outcomes or we are structuring academic offerings in a way to favor people based on their skin color alone, that is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated in an academic institution,” he said. “To the extent that we are recruiting diverse populations and we are doing everything possible to help diverse populations access a post-secondary credential. That's great. That should be continued.”

Looking ahead

“I think the institution needs stability, and I think I'm the right person for the job, not only in the short term but in the long term,“ he told reporters after the board vote.

He was one of three finalists from a pool of 11 applicants. Other finalists included Barbara Bryan, a former president of Broward College’s north campus, and Cesar Florian, a former Broward College tutor.

Mack now has to negotiate a contract with the board that will include a start date and compensation.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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