After receiving 11 applications and interviewing three candidates, the Broward College Board of Trustees Tuesday selected Henry Mack III — an education lobbyist and champion of a key part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ educational agenda — as acting president of the college.
“Wonderful. Really excited. Very humbled,” said Mack, 42, after the five-member board unanimously voted in his favor.
Both parties will negotiate Mack’s start date and compensation in coming days. Board of Trustees Chair Alexis Yarbrough said his salary will likely fall somewhere between $250,000 and $350,000, the range posted for the job online.
Mack, whose legal name is Henry Maklakiewicz, most recently was a top official at the state’s Department of Education. During that time, he championed the classical education model, a curriculum that emphasizes a return to “core virtues” and subjects like math, science, civics and classical texts.
He said Tuesday he likes that model, embraced by DeSantis and conservatives, because “it’s about the foundational knowledge that has made for our democracy.” Critics have pushed back on the teachings, saying they emphasize white, Western European and Judeo-Christian foundations, at the expense of teaching about racial injustice, gender identity and other issues.
Mack was a finalist for the presidency of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers in May but didn’t get the post; in June he joined The Southern Group as a lobbyist.
The trustees, all appointed by DeSantis, expect Mack to lead one of largest colleges in the U.S. for at least three to six months. After that, Yarbrough said he can apply to stay permanently. Mack said he plans to do so.
Mack’s appointment comes 20 days after former President Gregory Haile resigned abruptly on Sept. 13, vaguely citing a need for a transition in his two-page resignation letter. The board accepted Haile’s resignation on Sept. 26. Haile will stay on the payroll until Jan. 11, 2024, when the 120 days he submitted as notice elapse.
Haile made an annual salary of $287,000 and could also receive supplemental merit pay of $70,000 annually, according to his contract, which was slated to end in June 2024.
Other presidency candidates: Florian, Bryan
Out of the 11 who applied, eight applicants didn’t qualify for the job. Yarbrough said the only requirement was to be a former or current employee or trustee of the college.
On Tuesday, the trustees interviewed Mack, as well as Cesar Florian and Barbara Bryan, the other two finalists.
Florian, a lawyer certified to practice in New York, worked at the college as a tutor from 2009 to 2011 and now owns an immigration legal services business in Hollywood.
Bryan worked full time at the college for about 25 years until she semi-retired in 2013; she now runs a higher education consulting business and still works part time with student affairs at the college.
Yarbrough asked each candidate the same set of questions, about a dozen, that included what experience they have managing a large budget like the college’s $200-million one, how they plan to re-engage students and how they would boost the low morale among faculty and staff.
During the discussion, all board members agreed it came down to Bryan and Mack. They ultimately picked Mack, mainly because of his relationships with Tallahassee lawmakers who control state college funding.
Who is Henry Mack, and what are his main challenges?
Trustees said they were impressed with Mack’s experience, which included work beyond the college.
Mack worked at the college as associate dean for academic affairs and associate vice president from 2014 to 2019. In 2019, he became a chancellor for the state’s Department of Education and in 2021, a senior chancellor. This summer, he became a lobbyist at The Southern Group.
He now enters Broward College during a crisis.
Yarbrough painted a bleak picture at the beginning of each interview Tuesday, citing some issues that await the president: “Next week, we meet with the accreditation team to do our 10-year review. ... We have a number of vacancies on the senior leadership team that need to be filled. Our students want more student life experiences, including athletics. Our faculty want improved collegiality with the administration. And finally, our enrollment is down by 28% over the past five years, outpacing our competitors, and there’s a pressing need to change that trajectory.”
Joslyn Cassano, a college spokeswoman, couldn’t immediately provide the enrollment numbers for the five past years that show the 28% decline.
Born and raised in Broward, Mack received a bachelor’s in philosophy and a master’s in theology from the Catholic University of America, a private university in Washington D.C., and a doctorate in education administration and philosophy of education from the University of Miami.
He teaches religious studies at UM, and philosophy and communication at Florida International University.
Mack lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Ashley, and their three children, Hadley, Holden and Arden. He said he plans to split his time between Tallahassee and Broward.