Jacksonville Gets To Know Cynthia Bioteau
Cynthia Bioteau’s path to a top post in Jacksonville academia began about 50 years ago with a small town New England library.In those days in Exeter, N.H., you were only allowed two books a week from library, and she took full advantage.
“I remember going every single week to take out two books a week and reading about worlds unknown,” she said. “I loved the thought of understanding the world through reading and I think that very much directed me into education.”
It was there that she developed a passion with giving others the same access to that world. In the years to come, she did so as a special education teacher.
In between came marriage, two children and a stint as a stay-at-home. But higher positions followed.
Once her kids were grown and off to college, she took a position as a disabilities coordinator at New Hampshire Community Technical College; then, with prompting by the school’s president, went on to pursue her Ph.D at Lesley University in Cambridge. From there, she moved up the ranks from Vice President of Academic Affairs at Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina to eventually become Salt Lake City Community College’s first female president.
Last week marked her first month as the newest president of Florida State College at Jacksonville.
In her office, boxes sat still waiting to be unpacked. It’s been a busy month for the new president.
“I will tell you it’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once,” she said, sitting in her office on a recent Friday.
She’s kept a quiet and approachable charm that likely comes from growing up in a small, New Hampshire town. After all these years, she said she still considers herself a “New Englander at heart.”
“It means that I believe very much in a very hard work ethic,” she said. “I like to work hard.”
And Bioteau, 60, does have her work cut out for her.
She’s inherited a school still reeling from months of negative press and broken trust over the questionable spending habits of its employees. Former FSCJ President Steven Wallace resigned in fall 2012 amid the criticism. But this is not her first time taking the reins at a school with a troubled past.
Her 2005 appointment to SLCC came after former president H. Lynn Cundiff resigned two years earlier. Cundiff stepped down after allegations of financial misconduct surfaced in an audit. The school’s former vice president of student services served as interim president until 2005 when Bioteau was hired.
Under her eight years of leadership, the community college grew to see record-level enrollment, becoming the third largest in total students of the Utah’s System of Higher Education.
This also not her first brush with Florida higher education.
She was named a finalist for the top position at Manatee Community College in Bradenton in 2008, but later withdrew her name from the running. In October 2013 she was appointed FSCJ's new president at a salary of $330,000 a year.
Now, seated in an office overlooking downtown Jacksonville, Bioteau knows she’s got a difficult road ahead of her at FSCJ. And she suspects it is a long one.
“I build trust one person at a time,” she said. “One person at a time in the college to get around and talk to ‘A’ our students first and foremost and understand what they need; but also understand from our faculty’s perspective what they need to be the very best of professors.”
Added to that are other pressing matters like negotiating faculty salaries and long-term improvement of the school’s dwindling enrollment numbers. Since becoming a four-year college in 2008, the school’s graduation average has been just 30 percent.
“The days are long right now,” she said. “It won’t be that way forever but there are many, many things I have to do to first teach myself before I can say to those around me, here’s where we’re going.”
Those days—averaging about 14 hours—involve mornings with the media, afternoons talking policy and plans with school faculty; and evenings at student events. They also involve frequent meetings with local economic groups and businesses.
JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot has spent the last few weeks working closely with the new president on enhancing business partnerships in the community. He said he has been impressed with Bioteau’s work, so far.
“I’d describe her as extremely intelligent, very well-versed in the whole area of economic development and with linking the college with business and the growth of jobs in the area,” he said.
Strengthening those local partnerships and economic development is a priority for Bioteau, as is keeping the school's open access status. Open access allows anyone with a GED or high school diploma to enroll in the college.
Currently, the school is also in the beginning stages of devising a strategic plan involving members of the community.
“I need to know the leaders in the community that must be at the table with us as we look forward to the future at FSCJ,” Bioteau said.
It’s a future with many hurdles to climb, but Bioteau welcomes the challenge.
“I don’t like being bored,” she said. “There’s nothing more exciting to me than to see change happening and to be a part of it and I feel like that’s what FSCJ is. It’s a college on the move and its changing in the very best of directions. I mean what more could you ask for?”
ABOUT CYNTHIA BIOTEAU
Appointed as president of FSCJ in October 2013; began January 2014.
Family: Married to Frank Bioteau (40 years); Two adult children; Three grandchildren.
Education: B.A. in Special Education from University of New Hampshire; M.A. in Special Education from Assumption College; Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Lesley University.
Professional Background includes: CEO of Salt Lake Community College; Vice President of Academic Affairs at Forsyth Technical Community College; Dean of Developmental Learning and Academic Support at Bunker Hill Community College.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson