AVON PARK, Fla. (WFLA) — There will be a shift in power at another college in the Tampa Bay area, and 8 On Your Side is asking questions.
South Florida State College President Thomas Leitzel is set to retire on June 30, leaving his position up for grabs.
“The position remains open as a result of our three finalists all for their own personal reasons have withdrawn their names for consideration,” District Board of Trustees Chairperson Terry Atchley said at a special meeting called for Wednesday.
So, it’s back to the drawing board in the college’s search for its next president.
“I’m just concerned about the quality of education for our children,” Michele Roberts, a former dean at the college said. “The state of Florida is well known now throughout the nation for what’s going on now in education.”
The announcement of all three finalists withdrawing their applications now has some questioning if Gov. Ron DeSantis, not the school’s own board members, will have the final say as to who will be the next president.
“That’s the problem,” Roberts said. “The public, like myself, is concerned about what Gov. DeSantis will dictate for the curriculum and for the college.”
“If race theory is barred, anything that is controversial to [Gov. DeSantis] is taken out of the curriculum,” Roberts said. “How will the students get the truth about our history?”
At Wednesday’s special meeting, the board of trustees then amended the criteria for hiring their next president so an earned doctorate or other terminal degree is now preferred, but not required.
The three previous finalists each held a doctoral degree and a background in higher education.
The board said that candidates with a variety of leadership experiences are now strongly encouraged to apply.
“Are you aware of Gov. DeSantis having any hand in this?” asked 8 On Your Side reporter Nicole Rogers.
“I have not spoken with DeSantis on this,” said Patrick “Joe” Wright, who serves on the district board of trustees.
We asked trustees if politics is playing a part in selection process.
“There’s always politics, yes,” Dr. Louis Kirschner, who serves on the district board of trustees, said. “Sometimes in education, people like to think they are not apart of the political process, but I was appointed by three different governors.”
“Had I not known them, had I not interacted with them at various levels, I probably wouldn’t be on this board,” he continued.
“Do you think our current governor has any play in the selection now?” Rogers asked.
“I have not heard anything to that effect,” Dr. Kirschner responded.
8 On Your Side contacted the governor’s office about the search.
“The selection of a president is up to the trustees of the college, but of course we support the selection of a qualified individual who is committed to truth and academics and not trendy ideological agendas,” DeSantis’ office said in a statement.
We also reached out to South Florida State College, asking if DeSantis had any hand in all three finalists withdrawing their applications.
“The finalist withdrawals sent to the search firm did not indicate any involvement from the governor’s office,” Institutional Communications Director Melissa Kuehnle responded.
A timeline was also approved during Wednesday’s meeting as June 30 inches closer.
The board plans to announce any finalists for the position on May 10, and allow those candidates to tour the campus on May 30.
From there, they will interview the finalists on May 31 and select the next president on June 7.