Florida Polytechnic University Trustees select Dr. Devin Stephenson to serve as institution’s next President in tight vote

by | Apr 15, 2024

The Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees voted to elect Dr. Devin Stephenson as the institution’s next President by a 7-6 vote, against points of contention surrounding whether the president should have a traditional STEM background.

Florida Polytechnic University’s Board of Trustees elected Dr. Devin Stephenson as its next President in a closely contested vote, with an emerging divide over the leadership vision for the institution presenting itself during Monday’s meeting.

The final tally was 7-6 in favor of Stephenson, who previously served as president of North Florida State College. The decision followed discussions among trustees about whether the university should be led by someone with a traditional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) background.

Trustees voicing dissent, such as Mark Bostick, argued that the presidency required a candidate with proven experience in STEM fields to align with the university’s goal of becoming the “MIT of the South.”

“If we’re trying to set expectations for Florida Poly — MIT, Georgia Tech — we’re not going to hire a community college president that has no STEM background,” he said. “We’re gonna be the laughingstock of the country as far as trying to have national presence and I think this is a disaster.”

Supporters of Stephenson, meanwhile, countered that his leadership skills and ability to secure funding and political support were critical for the university’s growth, even if he did not possess a conventional STEM background.

“The fact is, Dr. Stephenson has had an accomplished record leading multiple institutions,” said Trustee Jesse Panuccio. “And we have a record in Florida of college presidents who have had great success [while] not necessarily having a background in a particular expertise of that university. You can take a look at Florida State and a decade of success that it had in growing its programs and its stature and moving up the rankings. And who was the president during that time? A former legislator who had no university leadership experience at all.”

The four alternative finalists included H. Keith Moo-Young from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, David P. Norton of the University of Florida, Daniel W. O’Sullivan from the U.S. Naval Academy, and Bjong Wolf Yeigh, formerly of the University of Washington, Bothell.

The board’s decision sets the stage for contract negotiations, which must be completed and approved at the board’s next virtual meeting on April 25. If an agreement is not reached by then, a special meeting may be called to finalize the terms. As part of the transition process, Vice Chair of the Board Beth Kegel will lead a team to assist Stevphenson in assuming his new role in order to ensure continuity and alignment with the university’s objectives.

A presidential search was launched last year after the university’s founding president Randy Avent announced that he would step down from his role after serving as the institution’s lone leader since its inception in 2014.

In a public letter, Avent informed students and faculty that he intends to enter retirement in July 2024 but will continue as president until a successor is identified through a nationwide candidate search.

Under Avent, Florida Poly attained ABET accreditation in 2019 and regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 2017. He also secured a public-private partnership with Fortune 500 company IFF to build its Global Citrus Innovation Center and oversaw the construction of a $47 million research building.

“Leading the University from its infancy to the strong campus we have today has been the privilege of my lifetime,” said AventI never imagined that I would be able to help establish a brand-new STEM university and mold the way it would serve students, industry, and the entire state.”


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