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Mary Jane Saunders Resigns As Florida Atlantic University President

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Florida Atlantic University president Mary Jane Saunders has resigned.

Saunders announced her resignation, effective immediately, in a letter submitted to the FAU Board of Trustees late Tuesday.

"There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community," Saunders wrote. "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.”

The "recent controversies" Saunders referenced have attracted national attention, which has led some observers, like Michael Mayo at the Sun Sentinel, to question whether her job was in jeopardy.

Among the scandals, Florida Atlantic in February defended its decision to sell the naming rights for its football stadium to GEO Group, Inc., a controversial for-profit prison operator run by an FAU alum. When students protested the decision, the GEO Group opted to scrap the $6 million deal.

Later, in March, FAU student Ryan Rotela claimed he was suspended for not participating in a classroom exercise that asked students to "stomp on Jesus," in which the name "Jesus" was written on a piece of paper. After Rotela spoke out, the professor was put on administrative leave out of concerns for his safety, according to the school.

More recently James Tracy, a tenured FAU professor, suggested in personal writings that both the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing were government conspiracies.

Although board chairman Anthony Barbar celebrated Saunders' accomplishments in the announcement Tuesday, other members had recently criticized her handling of the dust-ups.

"I don't want hear any more people say they think the lunatics have taken over the asylum," trustee Jeffrey Feingold told Saunders at a meeting last week, according to the Sun Sentinel. "You're responsible to straighten out this mess."

The paper reports that another trustee, Bob Stilley, told Saunders, "What concerns me is we have systemic events, repetitive issues that happen on a small level, and they keep getting bigger and bigger. That tells me something is not right at the university."

Dennis Crudele, FAU's senior vice president for finance and administration, has been appointed acting president, and the trustees hope to have an interim president in place for the fall 2013 semester. A search committee will be formed to find a permanent replacement.

Saunders plans to join the FAU faculty to explore establishing a physician's assistant program at the university.

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