Public’s Thoughts on First Round of Presidential Finalists


Gabriella Lopez

Former presidential finalists Dr. Robert Gregerson, Dr. Susana Rivera-Mills and Dr. Tod Laursen.

Abigail Muth, Staff Writer

Each former FGCU presidential finalist held forums on campus last semester prior to withdrawing. Faculty, staff, students and community members were able to voice their opinions in an optionally anonymous survey during this time.

AGB Search presented the three previous candidates: Dr. Robert Gregerson, Dr. Tod Laursen and Dr. Susana Rivera-Mills. With the restart of the search for FGCU’s fifth president, Greenwood Asher and Associates were chosen to conduct the search. 

They aim to host finalist forms between April 17-26, 2023, in hopes of a president starting July 1, 2023. The search timeline as of Feb. 17 can be found online.

Below are summaries of opinions voiced in those surveys that were obtained in a public records request.

Robert Gregerson, Ph.D

Dr. Gregerson is currently serving as the president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Pennsylvania. At FGCU, he had served as acting provost and vice president for Academic Affairs for a brief time in 2017, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and as a professor of biology from 2014-2019.

Almost every strength listed by participants in the survey mentioned that Dr. Gregerson already had experience at FGCU. His previous experience resonated with a lot of people and it was the most mentioned strength in favor of him throughout the survey. 

However, most of the concerns found in the survey referred to the fact that he seemed “too comfortable.” It was recorded many times by administrators and students that it felt as if he acted as though he already had the job. 

“It was concerning that some of the BOT members were very relaxed with him and treated him differently than the other two candidates. There seemed to be some favoritism, almost as if Dr. Gregerson already had the job,” one anonymous administrator said. 

There were few mentions about Dr. Gregerson’s behavior while in the forums, although it was mentioned more than once how he seemed to have inappropriate relationships within the university. 

“Inappropriate relationships with Female Faculty and Staff,” read one anonymous concern. Another read, “He was inappropriately funny at times.” 

It was mentioned in the majority of answers whether in favor of Dr. Gregerson or against that he seemed very relaxed in the forums and while answering questions. 

Senior Director of Counseling and Wellness Services Jon Brunner described Dr. Gregerson as “calm, deliberate, open and understanding focus.” A contradictory anonymous participant stated, “His relaxed style and empathetic style can also mean he ‘blows off’ your concern.”

Tod Laursen, Ph.D

Dr. Tod Laursen was the acting president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute but stepped down from that role in Dec. 2022, one month after withdrawing from FGCU’s presidential search. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s continuing to work at the University of Buffalo as a professor.

It is unknown whether the first participant comment on the survey was the earliest to be submitted; however, the first comment submitted anonymously reads, “I think he’s leaps and bounds better than Gregerson.” Further down the same page states another anonymous comment, “He is the weakest of the three candidates.” 

Participants in the survey had contradictory opinions on the candidate. 

Many opinions both in favor and against Dr. Laursen stated he seemed too “awkward,” “shy” or “quiet.” 

There were a handful of references to Dr. Laursen’s stance on diversity equity and inclusion.  

“While he gave a good answer to the diversity/inclusion questions, he didn’t really seem to grasp some of the Florida-specific challenges in this regard, instead talking in general national trends,” FGCU’s Theatre Program Coordinator Dr. Daniel Bacalzo said.

“Dr. Laursen appears to support DEI and has experience in strategic planning,” an anonymous comment stated. Another stated, “Did not answer any of the questions around diversity and inclusion well enough for the diverse population at FGCU.” 

One anonymous comment appeared to be a general concern about the presidential search process, “I don’t have major concerns about the candidate; I have major concerns about whether the trustees can make a decision that is in the best interest of the university and not succumb to the political pressure.” 

Overall, almost every comment on Dr. Laursen was contradicted by another. 

Susana Rivera-Mills, Ph.D

Dr. Rivera-Mills is serving as the provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Two weeks ago, she announced on LinkedIn that she would be the 14th president of Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois starting June 1.

The only concern voiced in the survey was that she lacked university presidential experience. Most of those concerns were followed by a statement giving their confidence that she was still the best candidate. 

English Professor Dr. James Brock said, “Obviously lacking experience as a university president, but she’s clearly prepared to take on this role.” This was mentioned under the section of the survey reserved for concerns. 

Besides raising concern about lack of experience, a handful of these comments contained negative statements about the candidate. Two survey participants worried about Rivera-Mills mentioning she wouldn’t prioritize increasing faculty salaries. 

20 out of 132 total participant comments thought the Board of Trustees treated her differently than the other candidates. 

“I don’t have any concerns about Susana herself,” student Erica Reeves commented. “I have concerns about how the BOT treated her versus the men that interviewed for the position. This needs to be addressed.” 

This was the only comment on the subject where the participant signed their name, although Reeves was not alone in having this opinion. 

One anonymous comment said, “It was troubling to hear some members of the ‘beer drinking with the president group’ express a belief that the BOT would not support someone with the vision and ability to help FGCU evolve and gain in stature and that, instead, the BOT wants someone who will maintain status quo. We have so much to be proud of here at FGCU and so much more we can do. To get there, though, we must take the risk of inviting a leader with the vision and skills to take us to the next level of excellence.”