Game-changer: Florida CFO Jeff Atwater to seek Florida Atlantic University presidencyby George Bennett | January 4th, 2014
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is applying for the presidency at Florida Atlantic University, according to an e-mail he has sent to his top staffers today.
North Palm Beach Republican Atwater’s decision shakes up FAU’s presidential search as a Monday deadline for applications approaches. If Atwater gets the FAU job, it will open up the race for CFO this year and have implications for 2018, when Atwater has been seen as a likely candidate for governor.
In an interview today, Atwater said he was reluctant to discuss his application because he wants to respect FAU’s selection process.
“I believe whoever has the great privilege to serve as the next president will have the honor of a lifetime,” Atwater said.
In an e-mail sent to staffers in the CFO’s office, Atwater says he was “approached” about applying for the top job at the Boca Raton-based school and decided to do so after “much thought and discussion with my family.” Atwater is the father of two FAU grads and has a daughter attending the school now.
Atwater represented FAU’s three campuses as a state Senator and helped forge the school’s link to The Scripps Research Institute and establish a stand-alone medical school at FAU.
At least 48 people have applied for the FAU presidency, which became vacant after Mary Jane Saunders stepped down in May. Saunders resigned while FAU reeled from a series of public relations disasters, including a botched attempt to sell football stadium naming rights to a private prison contractor, a classroom exercise in which students were asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it and a tenured professor’s suggestion that the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the Boston Marathon bombings might have been hoaxes.
An FAU selection committee is expected to choose eight applicants for interviews next week and FAU’s board of trustees has said it hopes to name a president on Jan. 17.
If Atwater leaves office to become FAU president, Gov. Rick Scott would appoint a replacement to serve the final year of Atwater’s CFO term. Atwater has been heavily favored to win re-election this year. He collected $814,756 in contributions through Nov. 30 while Democrats have struggled to recruit a viable candidate. Atwater won the CFO’s job in 2010 with 57.3 percent of the vote. The nearly 3 million votes he received that year were the most by any candidate in Florida.
Atwater represented a northern Palm Beach County state House district from 2000 to 2002, then won a high-profile state Senate race over Democrat Bob Butterworth to represent a coastal Palm Beach-Broward district. Atwater ascended to the Senate presidency in 2008.
Atwater is a great-grandson of former Florida Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, for whom Broward County is named. Atwater and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are considered leading GOP contenders for governor in 2018.
Here’s a copy of the e-mail Atwater sent to his staff today:
I want to share information with you that is very timely. I have been approached by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) regarding the search for their next president. After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to place my name into consideration for this position.
As most of you know, I hold a unique and special affinity for FAU. For more than two decades, in both my professional business and public life, I have had the honor of working with the FAU community during a time its reputation has grown from a regional to a state and now to a nationally and internationally respected and admired University. I represented three of the campuses during my years in the Legislature and led the efforts to establish a standalone medical school at the University. During those years, two of my children graduated from FAU and a third is currently enrolled and pursuing her degree.
My passion and enthusiasm to serve as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer is as strong today as it was my first day in office. Your commitment to serving the people of Florida is an inspiration to me. We have accomplished much together and the thought of working alongside you for years to come remains as exciting as ever.
I wanted you to receive this message directly from me. I will consider the prospects of this position in a thoughtful manner. FAU has told me that their selection process will not be protracted so let us all press onward in our service to the people of Florida making 2014 our most successful year ever.