David Szymanski, UNF's next president, sees 'endless opportunities'

“It was about connecting with community leaders,” he says.
Feb. 22, 2018

The day after being notified he was chosen as the University of North Florida’s next president, educator David Szymanski said Wednesday he was making plans.

“I told people it’s the next breakout university in terms of excellence and making a difference for people,” said the University of Cincinnati professor and business dean tapped to replace John Delaney.

David Szymanski

Szymanski said Wednesday he sees opportunities to partner with city and community leaders, much as he said he did in Cincinnati.

“It was about connecting with community leaders,” he said, including industry and nonprofit executives, to determine how UNF can best serve its students and the area.

He also sees “endless opportunities” for what the university can become. He wants “to make it uniquely UNF, do what makes sense for us and do what makes sense for the city.”

In a brief phone interview, Szymanski said he sees opportunities for the “classroom of the future” through “transformational learning opportunities” that include internships and identifying the areas of need.

Trustees Chair Kevin Hyde said Szymanski’s “proven track record of leadership will be a valuable asset to the university as we continue our commitment to provide excellent undergraduate and graduate education.”

UNF opened in the fall of 1972 and enrolled 16,525 students as of fall 2017. Its campus is at 1 UNF Drive in Southside.

Szymanski said he might start June 1, pending the negotiations.

He said UNF’s role is important.

“It’s a responsibility that I take seriously,” he said, referring to the university’s role in economic development, social issues “and making it a better city.”

Szymanski will meet with students, faculty and community leaders. He said he did his homework about UNF before the interviews and learned more during the process.

He said he applied because his research found passion and dedication to the university.

“You can do a lot if people care, if people are committed and people want to be better,” he said.

Szymanski is dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati, which has more than 44,000 students.

A UNF news release late Tuesday said enrollment at Lindner grew 50 percent for undergraduate and nearly 200 percent for graduate students, with first-year retention rates as high as 93 percent and six-year graduation rates increasing 1,000 basis points to 71 percent under Szymanski’s leadership.

During his eight years at the university, Szymanski also led curriculum changes for undergraduate and graduate students, revising the MBA to be more flexible for the professional and time-constrained student, said the release.

New masters and doctoral degrees in demand by students and businesses were added, along with new graduate certificate programs. The college also launched new online courses and degree programs.

Lindner’s MBA program improved from being unranked to become a top 35 full-time and top 25 part-time public program by Bloomberg Businessweek, according to UNF.

In addition, the college has top 25 master’s programs in accounting, analytics, applied economics, finance, marketing and tax as well as top 10 undergraduate programs in accounting, marketing and microeconomics.

 UNF’s release said Lindner is the most profitable college at the University of Cincinnati, generating 81 percent of the net operating profit on the academic side of the enterprise.

Szymanski helped raise more than $70 million, and in fiscal year 2017, the business college raised more than $20 million, making it the first academic unit in the university’s history to break the $20 million threshold, the release said.

Before joining the University of Cincinnati, Szymanski was the director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University. He served on corporate and professional boards, including several NCAA boards and committees, and he serves on the board of Office Depot.

Szymanski earned his doctorate and MBA, both with a marketing emphasis, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Hyde, a lawyer, was authorized by the trustees to enter into negotiations with Szymanski.

The selection must be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors before it is finalized. The board will meet March 29 at UNF and is expected to vote on Szymanski as president-elect.

Szymanski, 60, will succeed Delaney, 61, who served as UNF president for 15 years. Delaney retires May 31. 

UNF has had four other permanent presidents, including founding president Thomas Carpenter (1969-80), Curtis McCray (1982-88), Adam Herbert (1989-98) and Anne Hopkins (1999-2000).

 UNF said the selection concludes a national search launched last spring. Faculty, students, staff, donors and volunteers provided input on the qualities and characteristics desired for the next president. More than 600 online surveys were submitted.

The search committee reviewed the 75 applicants, and after public comment, narrowed the list to 12 semifinalists, who had on-campus interviews.

UNF said that after another period of public comment, the search committee narrowed the list to the final candidates, and each of the finalists had individual sessions with faculty, staff, students, donors, volunteers, associate deans, chairs, deans, vice presidents, direct reports and community leaders. 

Another online survey was conducted to gather feedback on the four finalists. The trustees reviewed the survey results and heard public comment before deciding who would lead UNF.