Rick Baker for, not Mayor, but Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg

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With Monday’s announcement that USF St. Petersburg Chancellor Margaret Sullivan is stepping down, university president Judy Genshaft must immediately begin thinking about who will succeed Sullivan, at least on an interim basis.

Fortunately for Genshaft, the answer to that question is — all six-foot-something of him —  pretty hard to miss.

I am referring, of course, to former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who is currently leading efforts by USF to establish partnerships with corporations involved in research.

Forget about Rick Baker running for Mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013.  Genshaft should name him interim Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg now.

Increasingly a leading voice in conservative policy circles, Baker is a perfect fit for a campus yearning to transition to the next level — whatever that next level involves.

Because of the backstabbing shenanigans of Deveron Gibbons, Baker was denied the opportunity to lead St. Petersburg College after he left the mayor’s office in 2009.

It would be a mistake to again deny Baker a top-level job in academia.

He has successfully managed a large bureaucracy.  He understands fundraising and partnership development.  He can deal peer-to-peer with those governing USF St. Petersburg and the State University System. He would inspire immediate confidence throughout the greater USF St. Petersburg community.

Like I said, it’s a perfect fit.

Sure, sure, there will be some critics, particularly among the faculty, that Baker is not a pure academician.  Tell that to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who was just tapped to lead Purdue University.  Tell that to Frank Brogan, Chancellor of the State University System, who first served as Lieutenant Governor. Or John Delaney, the former Mayor of Jacksonville turned President of the University of North Florida.

Being a successful politician can and should be a pathway to leading a college campus.

More important, is there any doubt about what kind of forceful advocate Baker will be for USF St. Petersburg? Those weary of Baker leading the college should ask themselves this: when the next round of budget cuts is proposed by the Legislature, who better than Baker to be at the helm of USF St. Petersburg to defend the school from these cuts?

And therein lies perhaps the strongest argument for Baker being named interim Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. Think of the state of the campus. It is literally bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, just as the City of St. Petersburg was in 2001 when Baker took office.  Look at how well that worked out for St. Petersburg.

I’m willing to bet USF St. Petersburg would benefit just as much by Baker’s leadership.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.