TAMPA — Florida Polytechnic University trustees have a field of 44 candidates from which to choose the institution's first president, including the school's first academic hire.
Ghazi Darkazalli, who was hired in January 2013 as Poly's provost and vice president for academic affairs, has had a strong role in the formation of the school's infrastructure and is likely a front-runner for the job.
A spokeswoman said Darkazalli and chief operating officer Ava Parker would decline to comment on the search while it was under way.
“I think we have an excellent pool of candidates from which the board can choose,” said Bill Funk, head of the search firm assisting in the hire. “They're individuals that have served as presidents, leaders of major laboratories, a number of outstanding people with STEM backgrounds that would fit nicely with the Polytechnic mission.”
Florida's 12th public university will open in August with an inaugural class of about 500 students, 31 full-time faculty members and 12 part-time faculty. The school will emphasize science, technology, engineering and math in an interdisciplinary learning environment.
Construction workers are hustling to complete the signature Innovation, Science and Technology building at Interstate 4 and the eastern Polk Parkway, along with a student residence hall at the site.
The uncertainty surrounding Poly – it won't be accredited until 2016 if all goes according to schedule, and, obviously, has no track record – didn't appear to intimidate candidates. They range from administrators at renowned schools such as Georgia Tech to those leading community colleges.
Twenty-eight of the candidates are from standard four-year universities; eight are from the private sector; five are from community colleges or technical schools; and one is a dental surgeon.
“There are always risks in general no matter where you choose to go,” said Ralph Salvatore, who applied for the job and is currently dean of arts and sciences at Pueblo Community College in Colorado. “I really thrive on challenges, doing everything I can to get something to succeed – even if it's the first time.”
None of the candidates is from what U.S. News and World Report considers one of the top 35 U.S. universities. None are from major Florida universities.
As an academic staffer, Darkazalli does not serve on Poly's search committee, which is made up of the university's board of trustees, a faculty member, the head of the school's foundation, and a member of the state university system Board of Governors.
He served as president of Marian Court College in Swampscott, Mass., converting that college from a two-year institution to a baccalaureate-approved and accredited college. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
The Poly search committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to whittle the list to three top candidates, although headhunter Funk said there is “nothing magic about that number.” Finalists will be invited to Lakeland.
The university has paid Funk's firm, R. William Funk & Associates, a $120,000 retainer for the search, and that fee will rise to one-third the annual cash salary the eventual president will earn.
The searches for presidents at Poly and at Florida State University could be the last such academic recruitment efforts in the state to be conducted fully in the sunshine. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are currently considering bills that would allow schools to keep early candidate lists for top jobs secret. A House bill has passed out of three committees and will advance to the floor; a Senate companion has not yet been heard.