FAU President Mary Jane Saunders resigns

Dylan Bouscher and Christopher Massana

Former FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. Photo courtesy of FAU.

Former FAU President Mary Jane Saunders. Photo courtesy of FAU.

[This is an updated version of this story.]

After almost three years as FAU President, Mary Jane Saunders has resigned.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am resigning as President of Florida Atlantic University and returning to a faculty position at the University,” Saunders wrote FAU Board of Trustees Chair Anthony Barbar in a letter.

“There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community,” Saunders wrote. “The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU.”

Before FAU forms a search committee to hire a new president, Saunders and Barbar appointed Senior Vice President for Financial Affairs Dennis Crudele to be the university’s acting president. Administrators also expect an interim president to be appointed by this fall.

“[Saunders] and I decided that uh…we felt that Mr. Crudele was the best candidate to serve as Acting President,” Barbar told the UP. “We felt that, based on his credentials, that he was the right person to do it.”

Once she resigned, Saunders became a tenured professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, with a 20 percent salary reduction, according to her contract. Her new salary is about $276,000 a year. In her first year as a professor, Saunders will focus on starting a physician assistance program, according to Barbar.

“What she’ll be doing is, um, developing the course curriculum budgets, all the things that go into establishing a new program at the university,” Barbar said.

Saunders’ contract was officially approved by the BOT on May 26, 2010. Her starting salary was $345,000, and she was eligible for $50,000 annual bonuses, as long as they were approved by the Board.

Her new salary makes Saunders one of FAU’s “highest paid professors,” according to WPTV. On top of that, her newer, reduced salary will cost taxpayers more money than her presidential salary did, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Barbar, who volunteers on the BOT and receives no salary, “regretfully” accepted her resignation letter.

Acting President Dennis Crudele. Photo taken by Ryan Murphy.

Acting President Dennis Crudele. Photo taken by Ryan Murphy.

“Throughout your time as president, you have consistently demonstrated a genuine love for the University, its students, and the community. You have been fully committed morning, day, and night to the betterment of FAU,” Barbar wrote in a response letter. “We are grateful for the contributions you made to help make a great University even stronger. I wish you much success and happiness in your future endeavors.”

Student Body President Peter Amirato, who was inaugurated last week, commented on Saunders’ resignation: “Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. I hadn’t gotten a chance to meet her, and now it looks like I’ll never get that chance,” Amirato told the UP. “I wish Dr. Saunders the best. I know that she made this decision with the best interests of the University and her own well-being at heart. But FAU will survive.”

In finding the next FAU president, Barbar already knows what the Board of Trustees is looking for:

“We’re looking for somebody that’s going to build on the trajectory that [Saunders] started,” Barbar said. “We’ll be looking for somebody with vision, somebody that’s able to, uh, deal with the various, uh stakeholders in the university: students, faculty, administrators, community, um, donors. And somebody that’s, uh, decisive, able to make a decision and have a clear vision of what the future is for Florida Atlantic University.”

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Accomplishments of FAU President Saunders:

  • Led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaffirmation, which earned the University the highest possible overall evaluation and special praise for FAU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Distinction through Discovery.”

  • Launched the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, including establishing preceptorships with 900 physicians, partnerships with eight hospitals for Med 3+4 clinical rotations, and a consortium with five hospitals for 340 new post-graduate residencies; more than 7,500 applications have been received over a three-year period, enabling the University to select nationally competitive students to fill the 64 slots that are available annually.

  • Fostered major donations that total more than $50 million in three years. The FAU Foundation’s endowment was $187.6 million as of March 31, 2013 and assets of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation currently total $58 million.

  • Led the process of creating the 2012-17 Strategic Plan, which establishes FAU’s three signature themes: Marine and Coastal Issues, Biotechnology, and Contemporary Societal Issues.

  • Doubled freshman applications from 12,000 to 24,000 in 2011.  The incoming class in fall 2012 was the largest in FAU history and had highly competitive SAT and ACT scores. FAU has become the most selective institution in the State University System and the student body has grown to an all-time high of 30,000-plus.

  • Balanced budgets of $600 million for three years including FY 2012 with $24.7 million in E&G budget cuts and no PECO funding for FYs 2011-13.

  • Created the Center for eLearning to increase the University’s competitiveness in the rapidly expanding online education arena.

  • Opened the following new academic facilities in 2011 and 2012 (on time, under cost and LEED-certified):

    • Engineering East Building; LEED Platinum; $46.4 million

    • Culture & Society Building; LEED Gold; $25.6 million

    • Henderson School Expansion; LEED Gold; $6 million

    • Davie West; LEED Gold; $36.2 million

    • HBOI Link Building Renovation; LEED Gold; $9.5 million

    • Innovation Village Student Residence Complex, Phase I; LEED Silver; $99 million (Occupancy 100 percent)

    • FAU Stadium; LEED Silver; $63.5 million

    • Harbor Branch Research Lab II: LEED Silver; $19.3 million

  • Initiated the start of construction of the following facilities in 2013:

  • Freshman Residence Hall; $41.7 million

  • Expansion of Louis & Anne Green Memory & Wellness Center; $1.8 million

  • Parking Garage III; $13.3 million

  • Expansion of Centre Marketplace (student dining complex); $4 million

  • Expansion of Recreation Center; $1 million

  • Grew sponsored research funding from $37.5 million in 2009-10 to $43.2 million in 2010-11 to $48 million in 2011-12, for a three-year total of $128.7 million.

  • Established the Center for Teaching and Learning, a multi-departmental initiative to ensure the academic success of every student and provide faculty with teaching tools and resources.

  • Launched, with University and business partners, Life Sciences South Florida and MedUTech, two promising new high-tech industry/University economic development initiatives.

  • Commissioned study that shows FAU has an economic impact of $6.3 billion annually.

  • Outreach to both internal and external constituencies through speeches, meetings with faculty and students, media interviews, op-ed pieces, emails and videos, service on many boards and participation in wide variety of campus and community events.

  • Increased outreach to the business community through creation of the Division of Community Engagement.

  • Initiated the CEO Community Luncheon Series, which to date has brought more than 60 local business leaders “to the table” to strengthen external relations.

  • Led FAU’s 50th anniversary celebration, garnering widespread favorable publicity for the University through campus events, public appearances, media interviews and production of an anniversary book. Events included the “50 on the 50” Gala, a high-profile scholarship fundraiser that ranks as one of the most successful social events in the University’s history.

  • Hosted U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Boca Raton campus to deliver a major speech on the economy; this was selected by Boca Raton Magazine as the city’s top event of 2012, and it brought the University widespread local, national and international attention.

  • Created President’s Scholarship Challenge Fund with personal pledge; total value of this scholarship program now stands at $625,000.

  • Revived awarding honorary doctorates to persons of outstanding achievement and continued awarding President’s Distinguished Service Medallions to special friends of FAU.

  • Tightened the University’s relationship with the Research Park, which provides nearly 1,000 well-compensated local jobs and has a regional economic impact of $274 million.

  • Moved FAU Athletics into Conference USA.

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During President Saunders’ tenure, University accolades included:

  • Named 2012 Business of the Year  by the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce

  • Received 2012 Education and Workforce Development Award from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce

  • Online graduate programs in College of Business named a “Best Buy” by GetEducated.com

  • FAU repeatedly ranked high nationally for conferring undergraduate and graduate degrees upon minority students in a wide variety of academic disciplines (as reported by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education)

  • FAU named to G.I. Jobs magazines of military-friendly schools two years in a row

  • FAU ranked 27th nationally for campus ethnic diversity by U.S. News & World Report

  • FAU repeatedly named to U.S. Presidential Honor Roll for Community Service

  • FAU’s Karen Slattery Educational Research Center for Child Development, Alexander D. Henderson University School, Palm Pointe Educational Research School at Tradition and FAU High School awarded top ratings for the excellence of their educational programs

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President Saunders was recognized in the following ways:

  • South Florida’s Most Influential Business Women of 2012 by the South Florida Business Journal

  • 2013 Ultimate CEO Award from the South Florida Business Journal

  • 2013 Champion of Children Award from HANDY (Helping Abused, Neglected, Disadvantaged Youth)

  • Invited to join the Business-Higher Education Forum, the nation’s oldest organization of senior business and higher education executives dedicated to advancing innovative solutions to U.S. education and workforce challenges

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