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UF's interim leader faces unsure future

With his wife battling cancer, Charles Young is uncertain how long he can remain at the helm.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- The uncertainty clouding the search for a new University of Florida president is now hovering over interim leader Charles Young, who will decide in the next few weeks how long he can stay on board.

University system chancellor Adam Herbert said Wednesday that Young, 68, told him this week he is agreeable to the idea of continuing as president, but can't commit to a timetable until he gets more information about his wife's medical situation.

Sue Young is battling breast cancer. She is splitting her time between Gainesville and southern California, where her husband helped build UCLA into one of the nation's premier research institutions.

UF officials said Mrs. Young is undergoing tests and expects to know more about her prognosis within a week or two.

Herbert said he expects to know what kind of commitment Young can make to UF by no later than June 15. That's when a Board of Regents committee is next expected to discuss the troubled presidential search, which recently lost all six of its finalists.

On Wednesday, an advisory group assisting with the selection told the regents committee that it wants the search suspended for as long as two years. The group also called for the removal of Young's interim status and the appointment of a "Plan B" president who would take over if Young's situation was to change.

"It's critical and necessary to Dr. Young that there be an alter ego considered," said Al Warrington, a major contributor to UF and a friend of Young's. "While he may say yes (to staying), circumstances can change and we don't want a sudden void."

One of the advisory group's concerns is the growing number of vacancies in high-level positions at UF. The university is now looking for a permanent provost, a vice president for academic affairs and deans for five of its largest colleges.

Herbert said interim presidents have the authority to hire, so he didn't see any need for a change in Young's status. As for a designated replacement, the chancellor said a provost essentially functions as a No. 2 administrator, but said he would consider the request.

Many of the calls for delaying the search center on the uncertainty surrounding proposed changes to Florida's system of higher education governance.

State lawmakers recently approved a bill that would eliminate the regents and replace them with a seven-member board of education. Each of Florida's 10 public universities would then have their own board of trustees, which would have the power to hire and fire a president.

But those changes aren't scheduled to happen until 2003. And several of the finalists who withdrew from consideration in recent weeks cited the shake-up as a reason.

"A president who would be willing to come now with all this uncertainty, well, that would raise red flags for me," said regent Jon Moyle. "I would think candidates wouldn't want to come until this matter is settled."

Regents chairman Tom Petway, who supports the board's abolition, was less concerned.

"I think people outside of Florida are looking at these changes as exciting and exhilarating," he said. "We just have to be careful that whoever we hire can deal with it."

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