Another Florida presidential search has failed. All three finalists for the position at South Florida State College withdrew their applications, the governing board announced Wednesday.
The applicants withdrew for “personal reasons,” the board said, according to WFLA. Now the board will conduct a new search, and it has dropped requirements for a terminal degree, meaning the next round of applicants will not be required to have a doctorate or similar credentials. Current South Florida State College president Thomas Leitzel is set to retire at the end of June.
None of the three finalists for the SFSC job immediately responded to a request for comment.
Last year a search for the president of Florida Gulf Coast University failed when two of the three finalists abruptly withdrew their candidacies after the selection process was delayed due to weather. However, trustees later alleged interference in FGCU’s presidential search.
Likewise, the search for a provost at the University of South Florida also failed last year, and a search for the next chancellor of the State University System of Florida yielded only eight applicants, with the job going to a political ally of Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.
Florida’s failed searches are happening against the backdrop of broad higher education reforms driven by DeSantis, who is widely considered to be angling for a 2024 presidential run. Beyond those reforms, Florida higher education has seen an influx of former GOP politicians in leadership posts, with Ray Rodrigues taking the state system chancellor job; former Nebraska senator Ben Sasse taking the helm of the University of Florida; and Richard Corcoran, a former Florida Republican lawmaker, hired as interim president of New College of Florida after the prior president was ousted by new conservative trustees appointed by DeSantis.
Additionally, Henry Mack III—another DeSantis ally—has been named a finalist for the FGCU job in the rebooted search, prompting student protests over fears that Mack would pursue a DeSantis agenda that has been hostile to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. DeSantis has also urged another state lawmaker, Republican Randy Fine, to apply for the Florida Atlantic University presidency, though Fine has indicated that he is not interested in the FAU post, per news reports.