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A photo illustration of Henry Mack III

Henry Mack III abruptly withdrew as acting president of Broward College amid a breakdown in negotiations.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Broward College | Getty Images

On Tuesday morning the Broward College Board of Trustees appointed Henry Mack III, a former chancellor of the Florida Department of Education and ally of Governor Ron DeSantis, as acting president, filling the void left when Gregory Haile resigned abruptly last month.

But by Tuesday afternoon, Mack was out following a breakdown in contract negotiations.

Now the board has appointed Barbara Bryan, a former administrator who spent more than 25 years at the college before moving into the consulting world, to serve as acting president.

Selection Process

In hiring an acting president last month after Haile’s resignation, the board put forth the stipulation that candidates must be current or former employees or trustees. Three candidates with ties to the college emerged: Bryan, who served in multiple roles; Mack, who was an associate dean and vice president from 2014 to 2019 before going to work for the state; and Cesar Florian, an immigration lawyer who worked as a tutor at the college from 2009 to 2011, according to various reports.

The three candidates sat for short, public interviews with the board Tuesday, each fielding about a dozen questions from trustees on topics such as managing the budget, engaging with students and navigating morale issues with faculty and staff at the two-year public college.

According to a press release from the college, Mack was the trustees’ first choice, with Bryan slated as an alternate if the board could not reach an agreement with Mack. That’s exactly what happened: the release noted that he withdrew “following an inability to come to terms on his compensation and the duration of his contract.”

Board chair Alexis Yarbrough told Inside Higher Ed that Broward College offered Mack a salary of $287,000—plus travel expenses—for a six-month appointment. However, Mack, in verbal negotiations, requested a $400,000 salary for a yearlong contract, plus housing and transportation.

Mack, in a letter to trustees obtained by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, cast his withdrawal in a different light, saying he backed out of the job due to family reasons. “While it was an honor to be selected, it is now apparent that the disruption to my family, with three very young children, is too great, and for that reason, I have to decline,” the newspaper reported he said.

Bryan’s contract is for a six-month term with a salary of $287,000. She will not be permitted to serve on the board of directors of any for-profit corporations, according to a copy of her contract shared by Broward College.

Though the reasons for Haile’s exit remain unclear, emails obtained by Inside Higher Ed via a public records request show Yarbrough had raised concerns over his paid corporate board service prior to his sudden resignation last month. She previously told Inside Higher Ed that she was particularly concerned about Haile’s paid service on a corporate board at BBX Capital and had requested details on that appointment. Yarbrough asked Haile to provide proof of approval from a prior board chair and a legal memo clearing him of any conflict of interest in serving on the BBX Capital board, but he resigned hours after a meeting with Yarbrough—without providing the documentation she was seeking related to his board service.

If paid board service was part of what led to Haile’s exit, it wouldn’t be the first time a college president ran into such trouble. In 2016, Ann Weaver Hart, then president of the University of Arizona, and Linda Katehi, then chancellor of the University of California, Davis, sparked controversy by accepting paid seats on the board of DeVry Education Group, a for-profit education company. And earlier this year Joan Gabel, then president of the University of Minnesota (now chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh), resigned from the Securian Financial Board of Directors amid scrutiny.

But experts note the provision barring corporate board service is not common.

“We’ve not seen any contracts in recent years that prohibit corporate board service, although we see increasingly that governing boards are putting limits on board service—most often to only two boards,” James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus at George Mason University who studies college presidencies, said by email.

Florida Presidencies

For Mack, it’s the second time this year that he was almost hired as a college president. He was previously a candidate for the Florida Gulf Coast University presidency but lost out on the job in April, when FGCU trustees selected internal candidate Aysegul Timur by a single vote.

If hired, Mack would have joined a handful of other presidents hired on at Florida institutions with direct ties to either DeSantis or the Republican Party. Recent examples include Richard Corcoran at New College of Florida, Fred Hawkins at South Florida State College and former U.S. senator Ben Sasse, who was hired as president of the University of Florida in November.

All three of those appointments occurred under somewhat controversial circumstances. Corcoran was hired on an interim basis in February after new board members pushed out then president Patricia Okker amid a conservative makeover of New College driven by DeSantis. New trustee Matthew Spalding recommended hiring Corcoran following Okker’s ouster, referring to him as a longtime friend. Spalding went on to lead the search committee that hired Corcoran to the role full-time.

Hawkins emerged after a failed search at South Florida State. Hawkins—a Republican former lawmaker who only has a bachelor’s degree, making him an anomaly among college presidents—was named the sole finalist in a rebooted search in which the board reduced degree requirements. A trustee later told The Tampa Bay Times that “the governor doesn’t appoint all Republican trustees and expect us to select a Democrat.”

Sasse’s candidacy was caught up in controversy because of claims about a lack of transparency in the selection process as well as his past voting record on LGBTQ+ issues.

The Florida Atlantic University presidential search is currently suspended, with the state alleging anomalies in the process after DeSantis ally Randy Fine was not selected as a finalist.

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