Time to forge ahead into a fresh era at State College of Florida

November 1, 2012 

The public spectacle that came to dominate State College of Florida affairs is entering its final phase with Tuesday's development. In agreeing to a departure settlement with college trustees, SCF President Lars Hafner acquiesced to the board's year-long onslaught against his leadership of the school. Finally, one of the region's key institutions and workforce schools can move forward and leave the rancor behind. The healing process between the board of trustees, college faculty and students will be job one for the next president, whoever that might be.

While Hafner's imminent departure -- he has almost a week left to revoke the agreement -- came as expected, the two college trustees who defended his tenure at SCF abruptly resigned at Tuesday's meeting, too. Jennifer Saslaw was one of the trustees who approved Hafner's hiring at then Manatee Community College in 2008, and Joe Miller joined the board a few months after Hafner became president.

Current board Chairman Carlos Beruff became a trustee at the same time as Miller and also has a long history with Hafner. Beruff took the lead role in ousting Hafner for what has been described the college president's questionable judgment on a range of issues, ostensibly including construction project costs for a tennis court and a collegiate charter school.

Whether Hafner received a fair hearing over his ouster or how much politics came into play are now moot points. History shows his tenure got off to a rocky start on several fronts while he also propelled the college's educational opportunities to new heights.

One of his first orders of business was to put the college on an aggressive track to expand its mission into four-year baccalaureate programs while retaining its focus on two-year associate degrees. But that move initiated a dispute with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, a division that still exists to a certain degree.

Only months later, in changing the name of the institution from Manatee Community College to State College of Florida without a conversation with the community, Hafner alienated a significant number of people.

Those two heavy-handed changes created immediate ill will and lingering resentment in parts of the community. At the same time, his development of educational and workforce training programs to serve residents and businesses earned plaudits from other segments of the citizenry.

The past year has been a difficult one for SCF, and we urge the governor to appoint two new trustees whose focus will be on education without a political agenda.

With campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice, SCF will continue to play a vital role in the educational and economic development of the region. With the closure of the current controversy, trustees face the challenge of leading a recovery and returning the focus onto students and education. The college's faculty and staff deserve attention, too.

The burden of rebuilding trust and transparency also falls on trustees as the board launches a presidential search. Looking ahead, we wish the next college president the best. The school deserves the best.

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