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FAU board extends contract with interim president as support grows for Dr. Stacy Volnick

Support grows for Florida Atlantic University's Interim President Stacy Volnick to be given the role on a permanent basis, as the institution's presidential search continues stalled at the end of September of 2023.
Florida Atlantic University
Support grows for Florida Atlantic University's Interim President Stacy Volnick to be given the role on a permanent basis, as the institution's presidential search remains stalled.

The Board of Trustees of Florida Atlantic University wants the school’s interim president to stay on the job for the foreseeable future — and potentially even longer.

The board voted Tuesday to extend the contract of Dr. Stacy Volnick through Dec. 31, 2024, or until a permanent president is named, whichever comes sooner.

The decision, which must be approved by state officials, would lock in at least temporary leadership at the university as a monthslong political tussle over who should be the next leader drags on.

During Tuesday’s meeting, BOT Chair Brad Levine says Volnick has been “universally commended” by the FAU community, as well as Brian Lamb, the chair of the state Board of Governors.

“Everyone has been extremely positive about President Volnick, especially praising her visibility, accessibility, energy, warmth, sound decision-making, and uniformly they felt she has provided exceptional leadership,” Levine said.

The board unanimously accepted Levine’s glowing evaluation of Volnick’s job performance, which highlighted FAU’s historic increases in enrollment, its continued success in graduating low income students, and the school’s upward climb in national rankings.

The trustees also voted to give Volnick a 5% raise on her $500,000 base salary, bringing her to $525,000 a year, plus a $75,000 performance bonus.

“Thank you to those board members that demonstrated confidence and supported me during what has been a very challenging time,” Volnick said. “What's happening with the search … is noise that I don't listen to. I come in each day and focus on running the university.”

READ MORE: As the suspension of FAU's presidential search continues, support grows for interim president

Volnick has been at the helm of the school since Jan. 1, 2023, following former President John Kelly’s retirement. A longtime university administrator and a first generation college graduate, Volnick has spent more than 30 years at FAU and has garnered the support of trustees, students, faculty and donors, during a time of intense political pressure and uncertainty.

“From a student perspective — and not just speaking as myself and student government, but people that are probably not super involved on our campus — they see you and they see the work that you do,” said Trustee and Student Body President Dalia Calvillo. “You have the support of the student body for sure.”

In recent months, support for naming Volnick as FAU’s permanent president has been growing: in September, the Faculty Senate recommended the BOT do just that.

FAU presidency remains in limbo, as state investigation continues

For four months, the school’s leadership has been hanging in limbo, after state officials halted the search for the next president, citing “anomalies” in the process.

That was after the school’s presidential search committee did not name Republican State Rep. Randy Fine as one of the three finalists for the presidency. (Volnick did not apply for the top job, according to a university spokesperson.)

Fine had been seen as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred pick, at a time when DeSantis and his allies have been dramatically reshaping higher education in the state.

But last month, Fine’s bid apparently came to an end, when he made a very public break with the governor by endorsing the candidacy of DeSantis’ competitor for the White House, former President Donald Trump, who is leading all Republican presidential contenders with a double-digit lead in the polls.

The prospect of Fine’s candidacy had raised concerns among FAU faculty and donors. Fine is a self-described “conservative firebrand” and a co-sponsor of the Parental Rights In Education law, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Meanwhile, an inspector general for the state Board of Governors continues to investigate the alleged “anomalies” in FAU’s presidential search process. That report is expected to be finalized “in the very near future”, according to Ray Rodrigues, the chancellor of Florida’s state university system.

Trustees voice ‘wholehearted support’ for Volnick 

Levine and the rest of the BOT seemed in agreement on Tuesday in their ‘wholehearted’ support of Volnick — but also agreed that they must wait for the BOG’s investigation to run its course.

“I think Interim President Volnick would be a phenomenal candidate to lead the university,” Levine said. “But that selection process is about the Board of Trustees. It's about the Presidential Search Committee. It's about the Board of Governors … all of us coming together.”

FAU officials say it’s not clear what the investigation could mean for the school’s search process — whether the three finalists would move forward, whether Volnick’s name could be added to that list, or if she could advance as a sole finalist.

“I don't believe the Board of Governors has ever directed the suspension of a presidential search. So we're in uncharted territories in that regard,” said FAU General Counsel David Kian. “I have no basis for telling you what the next steps will be.”

Asked about the governor's role in the presidential search going forward, Levine thanked DeSantis for his leadership.

“I know he's going to be actively involved in this and will drive for the best decision,” Levine told WLRN.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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