Presidential search winds down, two finalists visit campus

By Katie Garwood |

Two finalists in the search for the next president of Flagler College–Dr. John Stewart and Dr. Joe Joyner–visited campus this week to meet with faculty, staff and students before the search committee recommends its choice to the Board of Trustees.

Stewart currently serves as president at the University of Montevallo where he increased fundraising and created new academic programs. He increased first-year student applications by 44 percent, which brought a 17 percent increase to students living on campus. Prior to that, he served as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Flagler, where he raised $2 million in his first two years. He’s also held leadership roles in community organizations and published scholarly articles and book reviews. 

Joyner has served as Superintendent of the St. Johns County School District since 2003, where he leads the highest achieving school district in Florida. Joyner was also a member of Flagler’s Board of Trustees from Feb. 2014 to May 2016, when he left to apply for the presidency. He also holds positions on the boards of St. Francis House and United Way, among others. Joyner attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Central Florida, where he was chosen as an Alumnus of the Decade in 2007.

Both candidates participated in an open forum with faculty, staff, students and alumni, taking questions from the audience as well as a students-only forum later in the day.

In both sessions, candidates were asked about increasing diversity on campus since historically, the college has had difficulty in attracting both diverse students and faculty.


Dr. John Stewart speaks in an open forum on Nov. 14.

Stewart said at Montevallo, a diversity task force was started to combat the issue of diversity, which is troublesome there as well. In his six years at Montevallo, student minorities have gone from 8 to 15 percent.

“It’s been a chore, but an important mission for us to increase our diversity,” Stewart said.

Stewart said his vision for the college is for it one day to be regarded similarly to highly acclaimed liberal arts colleges like Rhodes College or Davidson College. Having attended and worked at liberal arts colleges, Stewart said liberal arts students come out of their education with a different skill set than students from larger universities.

He said that for Flagler’s 50-year history, it’s academic profile is remarkably strong.

“It’s important that we keep doing whatever we can to keep building our academic profile and reputation,” Stewart said.

For Stewart, the two most important responsibilities of a college president are health and safety, and to be able to deliver on the promise of academic quality given to students at recruitment.

Stewart said that especially at a small college, the president should interact with students on a regular basis. When he first arrived at Montevallo, he wrote on a sticky note “students first” and put it on the corner of his desk.

“You guys are the ones paying the bills around here and we should listen to you every chance we get,” he said.

Dr. Joe Joyner speaks in an open forum on Nov. 17.

Dr. Joe Joyner speaks in an open forum on Nov. 17.


In Joyner’s 40 years in education, 32 of them have been in leadership positions. Through that experience, Joyner said he’s gained skills that could help him if he were to be chosen as president. He said that much of what President William Abare does now consists of leadership on an operational level.

“That 14 years of experience in leadership, many of those operational type things are the same,” Joyner said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work in all those areas with teachers and dealing with the issues that you face in a K-12 setting. That whole environment has prepared me, I think, for being able to operationally run things.”

Joyner started his open forum discussion by acknowledging the fact that he doesn’t have experience in higher education. Joyner said he is ready to be president, but will need counsel on certain things, such as college-level education and fundraising, among other things.

“I think in a way, it’s a good thing that you don’t come with all the answers, that you’re vulnerable,” he said. “Because when you don’t have all the answers, you have to be vulnerable to other people and it forces you to listen.”

Fund-raising is a major responsibility of any college president. Joyner noted that he had experience fund-raising in the public sphere, but not privately. In the past, Joyner said he lobbied state government, and was successful in doing so, acquiring $9 million for St. Johns County schools. He emphasized the importance of reaching out to alumni for donations to the school.

“Have I [fund-raised] in the past extensively? No. Can I do it? You betcha, I know I can,” Joyner said.

Joyner said he agreed with the college’s current academic plan in that increasing the academic profile of the college is paramount to the future of the college, as well as recruiting and retaining high-performing students.

The day of Joyner’s open forum, Folio Weekly released a story that said Joyner had been hand-picked for the role as president by the Board of Trustees.

“I don’t feel that way,” Joyner said, adding that the story contained inaccuracies and judgments about his character. “I don’t know if I’ll get this job or not, quite frankly I don’t expect that I have the pedigree to do so.”

Joyner encouraged those at the forum to choose the candidate who is best suited to Flagler’s needs.

“What you have from me is blunt and honest transparency, this is who Joe Joyner is,” Joyner said. “If there’s a match, great, if not, we’ll move on.”

To give your input to the presidential search committee, visit to complete the survey.

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