Florida’s state university system picked its next chancellor. He’s a Republican lawmaker with ties to the governor.

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Dive Brief:

  • Florida state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored several controversial pieces of education legislation, will be the State University System of Florida’s next chancellor.
  • Rodrigues is a political ally of the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who has praised Rodrigues’ work to reshape Florida’s higher education system.
  • One high-profile bill that Rodrigues sponsored requires public institutions to change accreditors every accreditation cycle, a proposal that drew warnings from the Education Department and higher education experts before it was enacted into law.

Dive Insight:

Rodrigues became a rumored contender for the chancellorship when he announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate in June. Earlier that month, the current chancellor of Florida’s university system, Marshall Criser, announced he will step down at the end of 2022.

The board of governors’ search committee paved the way for Rodrigues’ appointment when it unanimously recommended him at the end of August.

Rodrigues is set to take over the university system as Florida colleges find themselves adapting to legislation he has sponsored or introduced.

Rodrigues’ work includes a 2021 bill that requires Florida public colleges to distribute a questionnaire aimed at gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus. The Florida faculty union is currently suing the state over the survey, alleging it is chilling free speech.

He also introduced legislation that made presidential searches at the state’s public colleges secret until their final stages. DeSantis approved the bill in March.

The divisive atmosphere surrounding higher education in Florida led one member of the board’s search committee, Charlie Lydecker, to preemptively address possible complaints about Rodrigues in August.

“We’re just trying to be really thoughtful about not allowing folks that want to be critical, or naysayer, or somebody with hyper-partisan views, whatever that all is. Our ability to not fall into a trap of appearing to be making political decisions, I think, is really important,” Lydecker said, according to the News Service of Florida. “I don’t think that has occurred, but I’m aware of the noise around us on any given day.”

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