Law alum heads UF presidential search

Published: November 19th, 2012

Category: News

C. David Brown, II (JD 78) is heading the search for the 12th President of the University of Florida. (Photo by Marcela Suter)

By Richard Goldstein

C. David Brown, II (JD 78) is looking for a new CEO. It’s a task he’s getting used to. As a member of the CVS/Caremark board, Brown helped select a new CEO last year. Now he’s in the market to find the 12th President of the University of Florida.

Brown, chairman of the UF Board of Trustees and chairman of the statewide law firm Broad and Cassel, calls the UF presidency the second most important job in Florida.

“It’s a very demanding job,” Brown said in an interview from his law offices overlooking Orlando’s downtown. “They’re running one of the nation’s premiere public universities with some of the top students in the country, a prestigious faculty and a research component that is one of the largest in the country. In addition, they oversee a major health care system, one of the largest in the state of Florida, hugely involved in research and quality of care issues. And not to mention a world-class athletic program they have to manage.”

Brown noted that leading a great academic institution is only half the job. UF is a 150-year-old land-grant university with the state’s largest land-grant agriculture and natural resources program (IFAS).

“In their spare time, the president must maintain relationships with the Legislature and carefully monitor the political environment of the state in order to maintain funding levels, which is a very complicated task,” Brown said. “Not to mention they have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations and keep our 340,000 alumni informed and satisfied as to the progress of their beloved alma mater.

“Now I think that’s a pretty complex job.”

Bernie Machen, who has held the post since 2004, announced in June that he will leave at the end of 2013. The lead time gives Brown, the 23-person search committee that he chairs and the Board of Trustees “a long runway” to find a replacement. Brown hopes to have a new president in place by the summer.

Dianna Morgan, a search committee member and past chairwoman of the UF Board of Trustees, told a group of UF administrators Thursday that a new president could be in place by the end of the calendar year. She expects soon to announce plans for public interviews and forums for five to seven presidential candidates.

The new president must shape a fast-changing higher education environment, says Brown, but he has a traditional idea in mind about where he should take the university: boost its academic rigor.

Admission to the University of Florida “shouldn’t be the peak,” Brown said. “I don’t think in all cases it’s like that but I think in some cases (it is). I just find it amazing how good these students are, and I want to make sure we’re pushing them to achieve what they can achieve.”

A long-time scholar of and active participant in higher education governance agrees that Florida should keep academic improvement in the forefront as it finds a new leader. James V. Koch is president emeritus of Old Dominion University and co-author of a book about the characteristics of successful university presidents.

“The University of Florida needs a president whose vision includes moving UF into the elite ranks of public universities, i.e., Michigan, Virginia, UC-Berkeley,” Koch wrote in an email. “UF should not be satisfied with anything less as its ambition. However, this must be more than simply a goal for the next president. He or she must enunciate credible plans for moving the institution to that position over a 10-to-20-year period.”

Koch and co-author James L. Fisher conclude that university presidents are most likely to succeed when they have held the job of a university president before.

“The evidence … is unmistakable.  It tells us that the best predictor of successful presidential performance is that individual’s previous successful experience as a president,” Koch said.

The presidential search committee headed by Brown has laid down desired traits for a new president. No candidate will have all the characteristics, but academic governance figures prominently.

Brown earned an accounting degree from UF before studying law, in which he specializes in real estate transactions. Brown noted UF Law Professor Fletcher Baldwin, now emeritus and who continues to teach, as an especially effective and influential instructor.

Brown rose to the chairmanship of the 170-lawyer, 8-office law firm of Broad and Cassel, where he has worked since shortly after leaving UF Law. Brown credits no dramatic court or business success with his ascension, but steady work building a stronger organization.

Brown’s family has lived in Florida since the 1860s. As a Florida native, he watched his state grow in population and economic power. In the 1950s, while Brown was in grade school, Florida was a post-war backwater with a population of nearly 3 million. Today, it is a Sun Belt megastate of more than 19 million people.

As the state became more powerful, Brown lent his talents to aid in its growth on more than one occasion.

Brown’s transaction expertise came in handy as he worked with then-Governor Jeb Bush to lure Scripps Research Institute, a bio-medical powerhouse, to Palm Beach County in 2003. He structured the complex public/private transaction that Bush pushed through the Legislature to seal the deal. Bush had previously appointed Brown to the Florida Transportation Commission from 1999 to 2004, and served as its chairman from 2000 to 2003.

Brown was first appointed a member of the UF Board of Trustees from February 2004 to 2008, and was later reappointed in June 2011. He has served as chairman since April 2012. The married father of two grown children doesn’t want to say how much time he’s spending on the most recent public service for his state and alma mater, though he allowed that finding a UF president is eating up much more time than expected.

“If you don’t have a good CEO you’re really hamstrung,” Brown observed. “I’ve had the benefit of having a great CEO to work with. I want to make sure we find a successor who can build on President Machen’s accomplishments.”

For his part, Machen figures Brown is the ideal person to recruit his successor.

“David Brown is a smart guy whose thoughtful, measured leadership style has been great for the University of Florida,” Machen said. “He understands and appreciates the university in all its complexity, and he is well-known and well-liked in Florida’s business, education and political circles. We couldn’t ask for a better person to head up the UF Board of Trustees and the university’s search for its next president.”

For more information about the search for a new UF president go to