BOCA RATON, Fla. - Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders, who has had to deal with several controversies over the past year, has resigned.
Over the past twelve months she has witnessed protests over the proposed naming of a football stadium by a prison company, anger over a professor's lesson that involved stepping on the name Jesus, accusations that anti-Semitism is harbored by administrators and a backlash over a professor who raised questions about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.
"I'm sorry this is what the president felt she had to do," said FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Anthony Barbar. "We accomplished a lot under her leadership, you can't judge someone based on one frame in time."
Church of All Nations pastor Mark Boykin argues otherwise.
"Had it been one or two issues, it would've been sustainable, not four or five," said Boykin.
Boykin called for Saunders' resignation in April, saying even then the writing was on the wall.
"She was passive and it came back to haunt her. You can't allow issues of that gravity to go unaddressed as long as they did, because they take a life of their own," said Boykin.
The president admitted the school needed better public relations.
In April she appeared on the WPTV program To The Point hosted by Michael Williams where she was asked about the challenges facing her. "I won't deny it has been a tough time for us," she said.
When asked if the school had suffered a black eye or anticipated problems retaining or hiring professors Saunders said, "We just hired a wonderful new dean at the college of business... our applications for our freshman class continue to skyrocket, you know we've doubled our applications over the past couple of years. Our wonderful new medical school has record high numbers of applicants... over 3,000 for 64 slots."
In March a student accused Saunders of hitting her with her car's side mirror and she tried to leave the school's Jupiter campus. She was with other students who wanted to talk with the president about the stadium naming controversy. No charges were filed.
"Students have written harassing letters and going to board members officers. I did fear for my safety, it was a difficult day for me," Saunders said at the time.
Tensions on campus increased to the point that the
Sun Sentinel reported that police were stationed in the president's office and she had a bodyguard.
"There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community. The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family," Saunders said in a statement released by the school.
"This was her decision. I mean, she and I... in my role as board chair we speak regularly. And, this was entirely her decision," said FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Anthony Barbar.
"I was recently made aware of President MJ Saunders' decision to step down from her post. I'm sure this was a very difficult decision for her and her family," said Board of Governors Chair Dean Colson in a statement. "The Board of Governors is grateful to President Saunders for her dedication to Florida Atlantic University and to the State University System over the past three years, and we wish her all the best in the future. We stand in full support of FAU's Board of Trustees and university leaders as they work through this transition."
Saunders is not leaving FAU, she will return to a faculty position and be assigned a special research project.
FAU hopes to have an interim president in place by the fall.
Here is the text of the announcement from FAU:
BOCA RATON, Fla. (May 15, 2013) – Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees Chair Anthony K. G. Barbar accepted FAU President Mary Jane Saunders' letter of resignation late yesterday (see attached), responding with a letter (see attached) expressing regret and praising her for her many accomplishments.
"On behalf of the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees, I regretfully accept your resignation," he said in his letter. "The Board respects your desire to return to the faculty, a decision we know you made in the best interest of the University."
In her resignation letter, President Saunders wrote, " When I accepted the presidency of FAU three years ago, I did so with a vision to expand upon the excellence of this richly diverse and strong institution with a focus on academics and student success. We, as a campus community, have successfully accomplished these goals.
"There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community. The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family."
Barbar added that President Saunders showed her dedication through attendance at events on campus and in the community.
"She attended every athletic game, arts performance and FAU-sponsored event that she could," he said. "Few major community events were held without her involvement. Throughout her time as President, she consistently demonstrated a genuine love for the University, its students and the community. She has been fully committed morning, day and night to the betterment of FAU. We thank President Saunders for her service and dedication to the university."
President Saunders' list of accomplishments at FAU is extensive (see attached). During her tenure, freshmen applications and enrollment doubled; philanthropic donations significantly increased; the University received a perfect score on the 10-year SACS reaffirmation; the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine was opened; and a number of capital improvements were accomplished, which include the opening of FAU Stadium, as well as new residence halls, classrooms and research facilities.
"The list of accomplishments you made during your three-year tenure is long," Barbar wrote. "FAU, its students and the region benefited from the strong vision you had for the University's future – a future you have set in motion."
In consultation with Barbar, President Saunders is appointing Dennis Crudele, FAU's senior vice president for finance and administration, as the Acting President, effective immediately. President Saunders will be returning to a faculty position and be assigned a special research project – to assess the feasibility of developing a physician's assistant program at FAU.
Barbar said he expects to have an Interim President in place by fall 2013. At that time, a search committee for a new President will be formed.