Presidential Search Process
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Author: Marion Harper
The Presidential Search Advisory Committee narrowed the field of candidates to be the next President of Florida State University. On Friday, May 14th and Saturday, May 15th, the committee interviewed nine candidates and voted to advance three of them to the Board of Trustees. The three final candidates presented to the Board of Trustees were: Richard McCullough, Robert Blouin, and Giovanni Piedimonte. On Monday, May 24th, the Board of Trustees unianmously selected Richard McCullough to become the next president of Florida State University. McCullough still has to be officially confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors during their next meeting on June 22nd and 23rd at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. If he is confirmed, McCullough will become the 16th president of FSU. The three factors that the Board of Trustees used to distinguish McCullough were his personality, experience, and background.
Selecting the Next President- Richard McCullough
The Board of Trustees emphasized that all of the candidates were extremely qualified, but McCullough stood out because of his personality and he was perceived to be a good fit for FSU. During the group discussions, almost every trustee highlighted McCullough’s personality and fit. Trustees viewed McCullough as warm, calm, and modest. Trustee Kathryn Ballard appreciated his consistent passion and desire for the job, and believes he has the determination to be FSU’s President. Trustee Peter Collins echoed Trustee Ballard’s sentiments, resonating with Collins’ commitment to the President position.
Florida State’s Board of Trustees plans for FSU to become a top 10 public university and gain membership into the Association of American Universities. The Board of Trustees is confident that McCullough’s experience at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon will help FSU achieve its goals. Multiple trustees mentioned McCullough’s background in entrepreneurship. Trustee John Thiel expressed that McCullough’s innovative spirit will allow FSU to work as a team to create revenue for the university moving forward to expand programs and raise the school’s endowment. Trustees Eric Chicken and Peter Collins appreciated McCullough’s humility, and willingness to ask for help when he needs it. The trustees discussed McCullough’s varied experience within education. He attended Eastfield Community College, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Johns Hopkins. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York before working at Carnegie Mellon University and then Harvard University. His mix of experience at public and private institutions resonated with the Board of Trustees, especially Trustees Collins and Sasser. After a period of group discussion, Peter Collins nominated Richard McCullough to be the next president of Florida State University. The Board of Trustees unanimously voted to confirm the decision.
The Association of American Universities
One of the main focuses of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee was to find a new President who is willing and able to lead FSU to become a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The committee asked all three finalists during their interviews what FSU needs to do to gain AAU membership and what their plans are to achieve this. All three finalists currently work at universities that are members of the AAU (Harvard University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Tulane University). The AAU is composed of 66 of America’s leading research universities. AAU membership universities award 45% of the nation’s research doctorates and receive 59% of the federal funds for academic research and development. AAU membership is by invitation only and requires an approval vote of three-fourths of current members. The breadth and quality of research, doctoral education, number of postdoctoral appointees, and undergraduate education are used to decide which universities to invite into the AAU. The association ranks its members using research spending, the percentage of faculty who are members of National Academies, faculty awards, and citations. Membership can be revoked for poor rankings.
Most of FSU’s Peer Institutions are members of the AAU, which may have fueled the Committee’s thought that AAU membership is within reach. Peer Institutions are other universities that FSU selects and observes to compare performance. They are usually institutions similar to FSU in key areas.
Below is a description of each of the three Presidential finalists, including information from both their application and interview.
Dr. McCullough is the Vice President of Research at Harvard University. During his interview, he stated that he has plans to increase the ranking of FSU to a top 10 public university. To reach this goal, he hopes to have FSU join the AAU (Association of American Universities). There are three areas he believes that FSU needs to improve on to become an AAU member: increasing research funding, telling the story of the successes at FSU, and improving student success and educational programs (innovation, entrepreneurship, workforce/economic development). In striving for AAU membership, he will increase research expenditures, specifically stating that expenditures should be at least doubled to 500 million and have more money going towards funding life science research. McCulllough has experience working with the AAU at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, where he also has developed his skills in fundraising. He is highly passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion and began the Future Faculty Workshop: Diverse Leaders of Tomorrow, which helped teach minority graduate students how to get an academic job. McCullough believes the success of student athletes is critical to the university, expressing a strong commitment to balancing athletics and academics in his interview. Additionally, McCullough supports online learning’s place in education, especially in the wake of COVID-19, and is open to innovative ways of engaging with students, believing that universities need to adapt to how students like to learn. In terms of funding, McCullough believes it is important to reassess Florida State’s current business model and ensure the university has a balanced portfolio moving forward. Five years from now, under his leadership, McCullough wants to achieve AAU membership, a top 15 public university ranking, 500 million dollars in research funding, and improve graduation rates five percentage points.
Dr. Blouin is currently the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. He believes that to be a top 10 public university, FSU needs to recruit and retain staff that are team players, committed to a strong, long-term plan of improvement, and have aspirations to make FSU great. Boulin hopes to improve FSU’s medical school and engineering school, and potentially develop a public health school. To Boulin, the best way to attract top students is with outstanding programs, which are created by outstanding faculty, which in turn will attract graduate students to the university. In order to foster top talent, FSU needs to give people the tools and spaces to be successful. To achieve AAU membership, Blouin believes FSU needs a strong four to six year graduation rate and to become a larger player in the research world. His goals for faculty are to not just teach but inspire, which is a major feature of a strong research institution. For Boulin, AAU membership is not only about quantitative benchmarks, but also about perception. Blouin believes that successful efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion do not just look at enrollment numbers but also cultural support. He wants to listen to the community and incorporate its needs into a strategic plan. He believes action is shown by measurable deliverables, such as attracting diverse faculty and developing current talent by increasing their role and responsibilities. Blouin supports athletics and is committed to investing resources in order to insure its success. To prepare students for the future needs of the workforce, Blouin believes students need excellent communication skills, diverse perspectives of the world through study abroad opportunities, familiarity with data science, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Five years from now, under his leadership, Blouin hopes to see FSU on its way to becoming an AAU member and top 10 public university, and plans to commit to new initiatives and strengthen existing departments in order to reach that goal.
Dr. Piedimonte is the Vice President for Research at Tulane University. He wants to establish a culture of relentless improvement and excellence while increasing research, applications, and grants in order to help FSU become a top 10 public institution. For Piedimonte, in order to become a strong AAU candidate, FSU needs to focus on improving its medical and engineering programs. Trends in higher education that Piedimonte predicts are the continuation of remote learning and increased hybrid learning systems, which Florida State needs to prepare for. To reach AAU membership, FSU should increase research and scholarly achievement in the areas of medicine, biomedical studies, engineering, and advanced computer operations. His strategy for AAU membership is to invest in FSU’s medical school and focus on AI, quantum computing, and hybrid clouds development areas, as liberal arts research alone will not result in AAU membership. To improve the medical school, Piedmonte intends to invest in teamwork and technology, due to the increasing prevalence of telemedicine and team-based medicine. In order to retain students, Piedimonte emphasized the importance of being receptive to differences and creating an environment that reflects student beliefs. His plan on diversity, equity, and inclusion is to have a Diversity and Inclusion team support and improve his efforts, increase communication, and reduce the negative impact of intrinsic biases. To improve FSU’s administration, he will hire top talent for the necessary jobs and incorporate their ideas into his leadership. Piedmonte also committed to supporting FSU athletics by providing a strong team of experts to run our division. Five years from now, under his leadership, Piedimonte hopes to move towards making FSU a top 10 public university and obtaining AAU membership by increasing grant funding by 50-100%, recruiting the best scientists and giving them the best tools, and establishing a culture of achievement and excellence.
Copies of all the candidates resumes, interviews, and forum recordings can be found at presidentialsearch.fsu.edu. Questions about the search process can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the recording of the Board of Trustees meeting on May 24th can be seen at https://trustees.fsu.edu/.