The Conversation: John Delaney

President, Flagler College

Photograph by laird

Congratulations on your new role as Flagler College’s fifth president! Flagler is a unique institution; how would you characterize the college’s forward momentum and how do you hope to push it further?

Flagler is one heckuva gem. Not many colleges have this kind of setting. For the most part, we should just make it a better version of what it already is. We will look to add some majors as we want to reflect student and employer interest. Money helps. Fundraising has shot through the roof, and we look for a major appropriation from the Legislature. 

You’re coming to Flagler after retiring from 15 years as president of the University of North Florida (UNF). Your successes at UNF were numerous, but one notable fact is that the university added some two million square feet of buildings under your leadership. With environmental sustainability a known passion of yours, how did you help UNF grow in smart ways, and can you do the same in the oldest city?

All the added buildings’ space at UNF was built to LEED standards, the environmental sustainability badge of honor. There, we had 1,500 acres to work with inside a nature preserve, so saving natural systems were critical. We built a road with an animal crossing underneath through some nice uplands—most expensive road per mile in Florida!  At Flagler, we need to be consistent with our own historic architecture and to mesh with St. Augustine’s sensitivity to the aesthetics of downtown. Flagler does not look to grow enrollment particularly, so we need to work within our footprint and within our architectural standards. 

You served two full terms as Jacksonville’s mayor, from 1995 to 2003. What overlaps exist between government leadership and academic leadership and what is most markedly different? 

After I had been at UNF a few weeks after leaving City Hall, my assistant for 33 years, Sherry Sands, said: “You know, they say that it is different. But it really isn’t all that different!” Org charts, budgets, management, setting a vision and a course—that applies in every bureaucratic setting. In fact, a campus is very similar to a city: you have to pick up garbage, pave streets, fix windows, have security … it isn’t all that different. Sherry was right. 

Flagler recently announced an incredible $12 million, 3-1 matching gift from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, a gift that is defined as seeking to “address issues critical to the student experience.” What issues are these?

Old buildings simply take time and money to maintain, especially when coupled with a desire to preserve historic design. The Urban Land Institute coined a phrase in development that they call “a sense of place.” Certainly, Flagler’s campus has that in its entirety: Sort of a church-like, reverential, aesthetic feel for the past. What a wonderful place to study! The Kenan Trust earmarked eight million dollars of their gift to capital projects, and four million dollars to other college functions: professorships and scholarships for example. It is one of the largest gifts in all of north Florida history. You will physically feel the improvements shortly, and students will sense the changes operationally as well as we match the gift. 

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Author: Arbus

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