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Poly's Parker choice applauded | News

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Poly's Parker choice applauded
News, People, Schools
Poly's Parker choice applauded

Lakeland, FL-- The Lakeland Ledger, which earlier this year ended it's policy of endorsing political candidates on its editorial page, endorsed the first hire of the Florida Polytechnic Board of Trustees Sunday:

Ava L. Parker, a Jacksonville lawyer and, until being named as Florida Polytechnic University's first chief operating officer, a member of the State University System's Board of Governors, is another strong choice at the top of the developing leadership of Florida's 12th state university.

Parker may be best known to those who followed the contentious conversion of the University of South Florida Polytechnic into the independent Florida Poly state university. She was the chair of the Board of Governors, and deftly guided heated testimony and responses so that a clear course leading to conversion could be created.

Her choice, by poly board of trustees Chairman Robert Gidel, follows his common-sense-but-informed approach of pushing ahead with the university's development but never going so fast that the next turn in the road is not clear.

The board smartly ceded to Gidel the task of hiring a chief operating officer - an interim position for two years, which should coincide with a 2014 opening of the Northeast Lakeland university. He announced the hiring of Parker during a board meeting Nov. 19, reported The Ledger's Mary Toothman in an article the next day.

Parker stepped into the meeting and got right to work, fielding questions from board members.

After the meeting, Parker said she is ready for the work ahead: "I know that this is a huge undertaking," she said. "But it is also very exciting. I think it's a wonderful opportunity to work with a new university."

The board outlined a good portion of Parker's role:

  • Help define the university's mission and vision.
  • Oversee the continuing campus construction.
  • Hire top staff.
  • Keep the effort to achieve academic accreditation on pace.

"As we started to think about the interim leader of the polytechnic," Gidel said, "it became clear that we needed someone not only with a background in higher education, but with real-world savvy to help us communicate our vision"

The appointment of Parker, 49, took effect Saturday, the first day of the month.

The specifics of her compensation are still being worked out, but it is expected to exceed $200,000 per year, as for her USF Poly predecessors.


The task that Parker will likely have to track mostly closely is accreditation. Indeed, it will be a priority for all of the poly's leadership - trustees and administrators.

University leaders met with officials of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which is the accrediting organization, on Nov. 21, Toothman reported in an article Nov. 22.

The process should take between three years and six years, said Ann Chard, vice president of the Southern Association.

Students will be eligible to apply for financial aid after the university applies to be a candidate for accreditation, said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association, and federal action is taken, for which no period is specified.

"I hate to tell you this, but it depends on how fast the Department of Education moves on that," Wheelan said. "It will not be retroactive, I can tell you that."

In any case, the poly must first begin operation with students enrolled, secure an audit and submit an application.


"We are going to do this right," said Gidel. "There are those who would like to do things fast in lieu of things that are the right thing to do to make it sustainable. We are not going to try to do it so fast that you end up making all kinds of short-term mistakes."

With his choice of Parker, Gidel ensured the presence of an administrative analogue.

In the pair of charged 2011 Board of Governors meetings she chaired - in which Goodman spoke against the interest of USF, with Judy Genshaft, his boss, and president both of the university in Tampa and the regional system to which USF Poly belonged, and in which state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, spoke forcefully and repeatedly for divorce of the poly from USF, Parker made sure that all were heard, order was kept and action was taken.

Parker has been tried under fire.


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