Mary Jane Saunders, the embattled president of the Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University, is resigning her post — two years before her contract ends.
In her letter to employees and students, Saunders cited the “fiercely negative media coverage” and several controversies that made the school into a national laughingstock.
Her letter reads: “It is with a heavy heart that I am resigning as president of Florida Atlantic University and returning to a faculty position at the university . . . There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the university community. The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the president of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the university, me and my family.”
As of late FAU, which also has a campus in Jupiter, received tons of national coverage — only, not the type school officials wanted.
There was Saunders acceptance of a $6 million-pledge by private prison operator GEO, which in return wanted to name the campus’ new football stadium. Students protested for weeks after finding out that GEO was accused of violating the rights of inmates in several of its facilities, and Saunders eventually reversed her decision to accept.
The bad blood between her and her students, however, continued to simmer as she started seeking the personal protection of security guards.
About the same time, a classroom exercise in which students were asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it blew up into a political kerfuffle that saw a student who objected suspended, then allowed back in, and the teacher put on leave.
Finally, Saunders has yet to explain what appeared to be her attempt to lie about her relationship with would-be trustee Elizabeth Fago Smith, a Palm Beach Gardens Republican fundraiser nominated to the board in March by Gov. Rick Scott.
Fago Smith eventually declined the nomination one day after another Gossip Extra exclusive questioned statements made by Saunders about Fago Smith. While Saunders claimed in an interview with Gossip Extra that she barely knew Fago Smith and did not lobby the governor to have her appointed, evidence in public records showed that Saunders had more of a relationship with Fago Smith’s health care business than she previously claimed.
Fago Smith, meanwhile, applied for the job despite a history of financial and personal troubles.