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Florida Southern College Prepares to Say Farewell to Anne Kerr, Searches for a New President

April 16, 2024 News

As Florida Southern College’s board of trustees seeks a new president following the announcement that its president of 20 years will be stepping down later this year, Anne Kerr is planning to help her daughter-in-law learn English and improve her equestrian skills.  

Kerr, the 17th president of the Lakeland college, said now seems like the right time to leave. “I’m celebrating my 20th anniversary here now. I turn 70 this year. Our son has married a delightful young lady from Japan. She does not speak English yet. I’m enjoying ‘mothering’ this young lady and helping them all I can and teaching her English.” 

Her son, Edward B Kerr, a Lakeland lawyer, is fluent in Japanese. He and his wife are expecting a baby. “They are living in Lakeland, near us. She can’t take the driving test because she doesn’t speak English. I just want to be that role for my family right now.” 

Beyond that, Kerr has many plans:  

  • The board of trustees has named her president emerita. “If they need me to be part of projects, I will be. Whatever they want, I will be here to help.” 
  • She also likely will teach a class on Strategic Leadership. 
  • She’s been asked by the New American Colleges and Universities (NACU) to do executive coaching for new college presidents. NACU is “a national consortium of private comprehensive colleges and universities working together to graduate extraordinary professionals for a global workforce and society,” according to its website. 
  • She serves on the board of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, a Winter Park organization described on its website as “a private grantmaking institution creating innovative civic solutions to help people help themselves.” “It has $100 million-plus in assets,” Kerr said. “We make decisions on recipients of those grants. It’s exciting and meaningful to be on other side of the table and reward grants instead of seeking them.” 
  • She will continue training as an equestrian. “I’m trying to make it into my class’ national competition this year. I work hard on that. I’m working hard on strengthening my core. I’m showing a new horse this year; she’s a better horse than I am rider.” 

Kerr holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mercer University, and a master’s in counseling and doctorate in higher education administration from Florida State University. She held various educational positions in Florida and Virginia before being named president of FSC in 2004. 

Lauren Albaum, vice president of Student Life at FSC, said “there are rare individuals who become inseparable from the institution’s own heartbeat. Dr. Kerr is one such soul — truly irreplaceable. After 20 years of leadership, Dr. Kerr’s deep, lasting impact is seen across all facets of campus, from the creation of new academic departments and buildings to the inception of cutting-edge programs and experiential learning opportunities to the visionary leadership that improved our rankings and prestige. Her spirit and love for Florida Southern College is woven into the fabric of our community and leaves an incredible legacy that will forever be remembered.” 

Picking a New President for Florida Southern College

The board of trustees has hired a national firm, Academic Search Inc., which is one of the top firms for hiring college and university presidents, Kerr said, and a senior consultant is working on this search. “I understand they are getting great candidates. The board will narrow the pool down with the help of the search firm, then interview the finalists before making their choice.” 

She’s keeping an arm’s length from the process, she said. No one has approached her directly, but she’s heard a few local people have applied for the position. 

She will work until a successor arrives, allowing the board to find the right person without being pressured by a specific date, she said. “Based on the quality of the pool I know they will generate, it probably will be through June. The hardest part of leaving will be not working alongside these amazing colleagues every day. I’m so blessed.” 

It is difficult to adequately express the depth of our gratitude for President Kerr’s two decades of unswerving service to Florida Southern College. The profound impact she has made on the college will ensure an even brighter future than we could have envisioned. Her visionary leadership and dedication are unparalleled.

Robert Fryer, Chair, Florida Southern College Board of Trustees

Dr. Kerr’s Legacy

During the years Kerr served as president, among other things, the college: 

  • Added 22 buildings. 
  • Expanded or renovated 20 others. 
  • Restored many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. The campus holds the largest single-site collection of the famed architect’s work. 
  • Developed the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise in 2011. 
  • Became affiliated with the Polk Museum of Art in 2017. Branded as the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, it hosts FSC’s Art History and Museum Studies program. 
  • Launched a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program in 2019. 
  • Increased enrollment to a record 3,300 students. 

Overall, Kerr is most proud of the overall trajectory of the college. “It’s our amazing academic programs. The quality of our faculty. The quality of our students. The academic excellence has been so important in defining the overall reputation of the institution. Enrollment management is great – we’re attracting fabulous students from all over the nation.” 

Students entering FSC have impressive GPAs, scores on the SAT and ACT, service records, recommendation and research, she said.  

But it goes beyond that. “I love that our student life programs are so engaged. We have a new program called Belonging, where everybody feels a sense of belonging at the institution. They’re not only included, but they belong, they are a part of it. It’s difficult to articulate but you sure can feel it.”  

She’s also proud that the college has added so many master’s and doctoral programs, she said. The number of students majoring in business and nursing is growing; the undergraduate education program is somewhat stagnant, as it is nationwide, but the Education Department’s two master’s and doctoral programs are “serving the community very well.” 

Work to be Done

Despite all the construction that took place to better serve students under Kerr’s watch, she said she’s disappointed she couldn’t build a science facility.  

“It will be at the top of the next president’s list of things to tackle,” she said. With the size of the programs in the sciences, and the quality of students and faculty, it’s needed.  

The new president will also be following through an announcement coming in April, she said. 

What Makes Her Smile?

When she reflects on her years as president, she knows what has brought her joy. 

“Seeing the dreams come through for the students who come here, many of whom have a dream, who know they want to be doctor, lawyer, whatever. Some come with a dream of doing well in life but don’t know what that means. They have the opportunity to explore disciplines and settle on something. I like to watch the journey, to see the process unfold as they prepare to go out and do something important in the world. Being with young people and faculty who are so committed to their success and learning — I can’t think of a better environment. If it weren’t for us at FSC, and colleagues and colleges and universities around the nation, there would not be a society as we know it. I like the enormity of that impact and the connectiveness to higher education.” 

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