William C. Merwin, president of Salisbury State University for three years, is leaving to head the newest college in Florida's state university system.
"I certainly wasn't looking to leave," said Merwin, 60, who noted that when he came to Salisbury in 1996 he expected to stay until he retired.
"But our three sons and all our grandchildren live in Florida, and they were always asking me to find a job down there," he said by phone from an academic conference in Belgium.
Merwin will head Florida Gulf Coast University, which opened its campus in southwest Florida between Naples and Fort Myers in 1997. About 3,000 students will be enrolled in the fall -- about half the size of Salisbury State -- but enrollment is expected to rise more than 10,000 in the next decade.
"It was a difficult decision made after a lot of anguish," Merwin said. "They came looking for me. I told them `no' the first time, but their search committee came back and I did want to live in Florida.
"Florida Gulf Coast is a very innovative place," he said. "For instance, the faculty works on contracts, not on the tenure system. And a large proportion of students are expected to sign up for distance-learning courses."
Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he hoped an interim president would be in place at Salisbury State shortly after Merwin leaves next month.
"We will then set up a committee and begin a nationwide search," he said. "As always, our goal will be to have it completed in six months if possible."
"We definitely tried to keep him," he said of Merwin. "But we could not compete with Florida unless we could kidnap his children and bring them to Maryland."
Merwin was among the founding faculty of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where he became provost and vice president for academic affairs. The time he spends at Gulf Coast University will make him vested in the Florida pension system.
"And that will mean a lot of money," Langenberg said.
Merwin came to Salisbury State from the presidency of the State University of New York at Potsdam. He also served as president of Montana State University-Northern. A specialist in history and social science education, Merwin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and received his doctorate from the University of Georgia.
At Salisbury State, he is credited with helping improve the academic quality of the student body and raising more than $13 million in the school's current fund-raising campaign.