Alex Acosta
Alex Acosta (J. Albert Diaz)

Alex Acosta, law dean of the Florida International, has applied to become dean of the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Acosta, who has led FIU’s law school for four years, is one of 24 semifinalists to head the Gainesville school. The list will be narrowed down to finalists today for future interviews.

Other semifinalists include Ileana Porras, associate law dean of academic affairs at the University of Miami, and Martha Barnett, a partner and lobbyist at Holland & Knight’s Tallahassee office.

UF law dean Robert Jerry announced in August that he would step down after completing his 11th year in June.

Acosta, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, was recently appointed to another five-year term. Founded in 2000, the FIU law school is South Florida’s newest and its only public one.

Acosta, 45, is credited with its rapid rise in the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking from unranked—below 160 out of 184 schools—to 105 and increasing median LSAT scores, grade point averages and Florida Bar passage rates.

In his letter to the UF search committee, Acosta noted he has helped boost female enrollment from 46.2 percent to 51.6 percent and minority enrollment from 53.2 percent to 59.6 percent. He also boasts of raising $1.55 million, saying, “My fundraising has been outstanding.”

“I previously served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions in federal government,” Acosta said of his time with the Justice Department and the National Labor Relations Board. “I offer an unusual combination of experience in the academy, government and law practice.”

When he applied to be the FIU dean, Acosta acknowledged his one failing was his lack of teaching experience.

Leonard Strickman, FIU’s first law dean, said he thinks Acosta would do a good job at UF and does not begrudge his applying.

“I think he has done a great job here,” Strickman said. “He has genuinely advanced the law school. As someone who has held three deanships myself, who am I to say he has an obligation to remain indefinitely. If he is interested in the challenges in Gainesville, he should go for it.”

Boca Raton attorney Adam Kara-Lopez, a FIU law graduate, said he was surprised to hear of Acosta’s decision.

“Being a U.S. attorney, he helped put FIU on the map,” Kara-Lopez said. “His connections and his stature in the community … did nothing but good things for the college of law. FIU is a third-tier law school, but I think it’s going to break into the second tier soon. That’s unheard of in such a short time.”

If he got the job, Acosta would lead a much larger and more prestigious school. According to U.S. News & World Report, UF ranked 46th overall, 23rd among public universities and first among Florida law schools. Enrollment is 1,087 at UF compared with 590 at FIU.

Of the UF applicants, 20 were deans or law professors and three are attorneys. Four candidates are women, two are Hispanic and two are black.

Another notable applicant is David Huebner, who left this month as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and is the former chairman of the international law firm Coudert Brothers

Porras received her law degree from the Harvard and a master’s in philosophy in criminology from Cambridge University. She received two fellowships from Harvard Law School and teaches international and property law.

She did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment by deadline.

Barnett, president of the American Bar Association in 2000-2001, is a UF law grad.