- Florida state Sen. Ray Rodrigues is set to become the State University System of Florida's next chancellor after a search committee unanimously recommended him for the position Friday.
- Rodrigues, a Republican, is known as an ally of the state's governor of the same political party, Ron DeSantis, and has sponsored several pieces of legislation that roiled higher education in Florida. They include a bill signed in 2021 that requires Florida public colleges to distribute a questionnaire aimed at gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus. He also sponsored a measure signed into law this year to allow the university system's board of governors to create a new post-tenure review system and to require public institutions to change accreditors every accreditation cycle.
- The full university system governing board is expected to vote on hiring Rodrigues at its next meeting scheduled for Sept. 14.
Florida has a track record of considering, and sometimes selecting, politically connected candidates with limited higher ed experience for top university positions. Richard Corcoran, a former state lawmaker, was recently a candidate for the Florida State University presidency even as he was the state's education commissioner. Corcoran, who ultimately wasn't selected for the job, was vying to replace John Thrasher, himself a former state senator.
Rodrigues' candidacy for the chancellorship drew attention, particularly because he said in June he would not seek reelection to the Senate. That same month, the current chancellor of Florida’s university system, Marshall Criser, announced he will step down at the end of 2022.
A search committee chose Rodrigues and Lori Cromwell, the chief business officer for Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, as finalists for the chancellor job. One of the search committee members, Charlie Lydecker, has sought to cut off possible complaints about Rodrigues, according to the News Service of Florida.
“We’re just trying to be really thoughtful about not allowing folks that want to be critical, or naysayer, or somebody with hyper-partisan views, whatever that all is. Our ability to not fall into a trap of appearing to be making political decisions, I think, is really important,” Lydecker said during Friday's board meeting. “I don’t think that has occurred, but I’m aware of the noise around us on any given day.”
Public colleges in Florida, including the state's university system, often find themselves at the center of controversial education legislation. DeSantis approved legislation in March that made presidential searches at the state's public colleges secret until their final stages. Rodrigues introduced it in the Senate.
The state is currently being sued over the mandated “viewpoint diversity” survey spearheaded by Rodrigues, which itself yielded dismally low response rates.
Rodrigues is currently director of interagency partnerships at Florida Gulf Coast University.