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Advice from Florida on New PA State University System Chancellor: “Keep Your Back to the Wall and Stay Vigilant”

Part II: Bringing Downsizing, Austerity, and Corporate Antics to Florida Atlantic University

Editor’s Note: We try our best to provide links to all the sources referenced by our writers. In this article, there are several references to articles published in the Palm Beach Post in 2003 that can only be viewed on the web through a pay portal on the Palm Beach Post web page. They are, however, fully available through research databases such as Lexis-Nexis. Therefore, we are providing article titles and dates of publication for readers who would like to read the originals in their entirety. 

 

Last month, the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) lifted the veil of secrecy and announced that they had chosen Frank Brogan to help write the next chapter of the 14 state-owned universities. Brogan comes to PASSHE fresh off his gig as chancellor of Florida’s State University System. PASSHE Board of Governors chair, Guido Pichini, sang the praises of Brogan in a public relations piece released following the announcement:

He has had an impressive record of success throughout his career. He understands the many complexities and challenges facing public higher education and the vital role public universities play both in preparing students for a lifetime of their own success and in ensuring the economic vitality of the state.

However, as I reported in my first article on the in-coming chancellor, Pichini’s words could not be judged on their merit. He and PASSHE’s Board of Governors forced search committee members to sign confidentiality agreements to not disclose any information about the search process – including the names of the candidates. Given that PASSHE and public education in general has been under assault by Governor Tom Corbett’s administration, we at Raging Chicken Press thought we should get up to speed on who this guy is.

My first article in this series focused on Brogan’s background as a right-wing education “reformer,” who served on George W. Bush’s education transition team in 2000 (helping to usher in No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing); his close ties with anti-union and anti-public education organizations such as the far-right Center for Education Reform;  his time as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor under Jeb Bush in which he pushed for the rapid expansion of vouchers and charter schools; and his advocacy for using high-stakes testing to shut down “failing” public schools.

In this article, we’ll take a look at Brogan’s time as the President of Florida Atlantic University. If you’re looking for some good news, you might want to stop reading now.

“Gotta Go Put the Toothpaste Back in the Tube”

You don’t have to do much research on Brogan before coming across references to his sharp conflicts with faculty during his time as President of Florida Atlantic University. I wanted to know more about what happened at FAU, so I called Jim Tracy, the president of the faculty union, United Faculty of Florida – Florida Atlantic University (UFF-UAF) during Brogan’s tenure as president.

Tracy provided this characterization of Brogan’s time at FAU:

I think, honestly, my impression of him – when he was here anyway – is that he was someone who was contemptuous of what we were seeking to do – as far as academe, as far as university life, intellectualism. I think he was regarded as being an outsider.

Brogan’s outsider status was earned, in part, by the way he got the job as university president in the first place. Faculty and even some university Trustees had misgivings about Brogan’s appointment to the university’s top post due to the fact that he had virtually no experience in higher education. In January 2003, just a day after Brogan took the oath of office to serve as then Governor Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor for a second term, Brogan took a step toward ending months of rumors that he was going apply for the top position at FAU. On January 9, 2003, the Palm Beach Post reported that the search for a new FAU president was abruptly halted on Thanksgiving eve by George Zoley, chief executive of Wackenhut Corrections and chairman of the search committee, “a week before trustees were to choose a new president. Almost simultaneously, Brogan’s interest in the job surfaced” (“Brogan Expected to Seek Top FAU Job,” Palm Beach Post). The search for a new FAU president had been tarnished by reports that the Chair of the Board of Trustees, John Temple, had a “financial stake in an FAU research and development park” and he was “personally contacting and interviewing potential candidates for the university’s top job.” (“Brogan Leads for Top Slot at FAU, But Who Asked Him,” Palm Beach Post, 1/10/2003).

Brogan was a fast rising star in the Florida Republican Party, but he had been shaken by the death of his first wife of 23 years in 1999. During the celebration of the Bush/Brogan ticket on election night, November 9, 2002, Brogan announced that just moments before he took the stage he got engaged to Courtney Strickland, a 26 year-old law student from Florida State University who he had been dating for a couple of years. Brogan seemed to acknowledge these events when asked about the FAU position by the Palm Beach Post in that 1/9/2003 article, “The governor and I talked, and he knows how attractive this is,” Brogan said. “He knows what an emotional roller coaster I’m on.” And the FAU job was attractive indeed. Coming with about $500,000 in salary and benefits, Brogan would quadruple the salary he earned as Lieutenant Governor.

But there was a strong feeling among FAU’s faculty and many reporters at the time, that Brogan’s appointment reeked of cronyism. The issue that was particularly grating to faculty was that of all the candidates for president, Brogan was the only one without a PhD and he had virtually no higher education experience. Brogan’s credentials included his time as school principal and superintendent, his appointment as Florida’s Commissioner of Education in 1995, and his service as Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor. He only has a Master’s Degree and he had never taught at the college level. But with a Board of Trustees stacked with Jeb Bush appointees, including Brogan’s former chief of staff while he was Commissioner of Education, Sherry Plymale - who was also on the hiring committee – Brogan was given the job.

Brogan’s stature as a power player in the Florida Republican Party and his close relationship with the Bush family had an impact in terms of how university business was conducted. According to former UFF-FAU president Jim Tracy, the lines of power seemed to be upside down:

At the board meetings, when he was there, it was odd. He’s supposed to be working for the Trustees, right? But, it was like the opposite. They would wait for his every cue on things, because he was an important and relatively powerful political figure with really significant connections to the Bush family. They were enamored of him in a way. You would see this kind of sycophantic grovelling at the trustee meetings. They wanted to please him, more or less. So, he called the shots and whatever he wanted done — even if it didn’t make an awful lot of sense — they would go ahead and do it, rubber stamp it.

The fact that Brogan was relatively clueless about how higher education worked – much less a university with a unionized faculty – impacted the things he did during his first few years. According to Tracy, for example, right from the start Brogan was constantly talking about “efficiencies” and “revamping” the university. Faculty began hearing talk that Brogan wanted to merge departments and even whole colleges at the university. So, he did what he knew how to do. He hired a consultant to help him out:

FAU Budget Reduction Charthe hired this consultant – her name was Susan Clemmons - and she was actually an adjunct professor of management at FIU [Florida International University]. She had previously worked at Burger King. You know, she’d done reengineering, personnel management, and things like that. She was in corporate. That kind of became a running joke.

Burger King is certainly efficient in churning out the flamed-broiled burgers and keeping wages at a bare minimum; perhaps, that’s what Brogan had in mind for FAU. That seemed to be at least the direction Brogan and his administration took off on according to an email exchange between Clemmons and FAU administrators that UFF-FAU secured through Florida’s Open Records/Sunshine laws.

One crowning moment in Clemmons’s consulting work came during a 2009 retreat for FAU Trustees to determine the future direction of the university upon news that Brogan would be moving on to become the chancellor of the Florida State University System. Palm Beach Post reporter, Kimberly Miller, summarized the moment this way:

Florida Atlantic University trustees are meeting in a two-day retreat being facilitated by consultant Susan Clemmons whose first order of business was to assign each trustee a “secret admirer.”

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Each trustee was given the name of two other trustees and asked to secretly observe the trustees during the next two days to watch for their behavior.

The secret admirers are then supposed to write their observations down on a board that posted near where they are meeting.

“You now have two people you will be watching casually and at the end of the retreat we will ask you if you knew who your secret admirers were,” Clemmons said.

This is occurring because Clemmons said board retreats should be fun, as well as productive. The board is supposed to be hammering out the future of the university in the next two days and figuring out what qualities they’d like to see in the next president.

But this is what you get, I guess, when you turn over higher education to right-wing corporatists. In a comment on Miller’s article, “Joan,” put it best, I think:

This is what happens as a result of the statewide Board of Regents, an intermittently competent group, being replaced by political appointments to local Boards of Trustees for each university. And University Presidents are now more than ever political appointments as well, i.e. Frank Brogan. More expensive cronyism and incompetence, thanks to Jeb Bush. When you put “conservatives” who don’t believe in government in charge of government (and governance), don’t be surprised at this outcome.

It certainly worked out for Clemmons.  Her assistance in helping downsize FAU between March and September 2009, earned her $40,000 in consultation fees. “Have it your way” is right.

Another example of Brogan’s lack of higher education experience came in the 2006-2007 academic year. According to Tracy, during that year Brogan

made an announcement that he was going to come around and sit in on people’s classes. Just like that, out of the blue. Faculty were talking about this, just saying, “you’ve got to be kidding!” Everyone knows him, everyone knows what he looks like. He was the trademark of FAU. It was just horrible. Not to mention it’s completely beyond anything that is provided for in the contract. That was kind of a disaster. He did these things because he thought it was just the thing to do. He had to be, probably, chastised in private. He learned on the job.

Some of the administrators even seemed to grow frustrated with Brogan’s missteps. Tracy recalled a meeting between then Provost Dr. John Pritchett and librarians in 2006 or 2007. In the middle of the meeting, Pritchett received a message that Brogan had done something again and Pritchett was needed asap to put out the fire. Pritchett got up, apologized for having to leave and remarked: “I’ve gotta go put the toothpaste back into the tube.”

Brogan Leaves His Mark: “Budget Crises,” Protracted Negotiations, and Faculty Firings

If Brogan’s tenure as FAU president was simply a series of comical blunders negotiating the peculiarities of university life, that would be one thing – it might even make a funny satirical novel like Moo or Straight Man. However, Brogan was and is not a clown. He’s a skilled politician with powerful connections in the state and national Republican party. And as much as he was scorned by faculty for lacking PhD credentials or experience in higher education, he was steeped in the right-wing ideology of the State and had already tried his hand at applying the rules of corporate downsizing  and privatization to the state’s K-12 public schools as Commissioner of Education and Jeb Bush’s right-hand man.

Brogan’s term as PASSHE chancellor begins on October 1. His time at FAU can provide a window into the kind of approach to the office that he might bring. Let’s take a look at some key examples.

According to former UFF-FAU president Jim Tracy, Brogan’s mantra was “we don’t have any money, we’re broke, yada, yada, yada.” Tracy said that may have been true to a certain degree in terms of the university’s general fund. For example, as the reality of the economic collapse of 2008 was beginning to have direct impacts on Florida’s budget, over 200 FAU students held a “save our school” rally to protest a proposed $9.5 million cut to FAU’s budget (“FAU Students Rally to Protest State Budget Cuts,” Palm Beach Post, 2/29/2008). As Brogan was just getting settled in at FAU in 2003, the state of Florida voted to cut appropriations to the Florida State University System. FAU saw a 1.8% or $3.1 million dollar direct cut. In that same year, tuition was increased by 8.5% – a trend that would continue during Brogan’s tenure (“Budget-Conscious FAU Looks at Cuts Big and Small,” Palm Beach Post, 6/6/2003). Tracy described the impact of budget cuts and tuition increases this way:

In our college [Arts and Sciences] and probably elsewhere throughout the university, students are finding larger and larger classes. You have less experienced faculty that are teaching those classes, in some cases. So students are paying more for less. That’s really unfortunate, but that’s generally the case.

If this dynamic is sounding familiar to the ears of Pennsylvania faculty, staff, and students, hold on, it gets better.

As the faculty union for the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education learned during its own protracted contract fight from Fall 2010 to spring 2013, the “we’re broke” mantra may play well in a political environment alive with the language of austerity and budget cuts. However, that argument doesn’t necessarily hold up when you have access to actual financial statements and data.

Brogan’s “we’re broke” mantra played itself out during the last faculty contract negotiations he presided over at FAU. The UFF-FAU contract was set to expire in 2009 2006 [correction: it was the 2006-2009 contract] and Brogan and his negotiating team refused to budge on salary. Every time faculty brought up the issues of salary increases, they heard Brogan’s mantra. As negotiations seemed to be approaching an impasse, the union made an appeal to a special magistrate  to independently review the university’s finances and make recommendations in regards to faculty salaries. The magistrate serves as kind of an independent arbiter who makes non-binding recommendations. This is how Jim Tracy described that process:

We thought that we deserved a raise.  We were at an impasse…it was a sticking point for this particular contract. The contract was supposed to be concluded in 2009 2006 [correction: it was the 2006-2009 contract] and it was protracted primarily because of them. They would not concede on any raise. All the figures suggested that we really did deserve one. Ultimately, we had a hearing before a special magistrate who was appointed. The administration had their representatives – their CFO, their attorney, a couple of the Provosts – and we had our representatives – our bargainer and an attorney that the UFF had sent down.

So, we had the magistrate brought in over a couple of days, like two four-hour sessions.  It was open to the public. Some faculty came and cheered on our side. Everything was presented there at the table. We had studies, we had figures, and everything was really in our favor. The magistrate, who was this older gentleman, quite experienced and so forth, in the end said that the faculty deserve at minimum a 2.5% increase and that FAU is capable of doing that. They had more than enough financial where-with-all to be able to provide a modest raise like that. That was turned down – it was rejected by Brogan.  He told the Trustees more or less “we’re not going to accept this.” So, we got a 1% raise. It was hardly noticeable – where the 2.5% was what was demanded by the magistrate.

(You can read the entire decision by the magistrate here – I highly recommend it).

Facts be damned. Magistrates be damned. Keep that austerity train rolling on. And, in June 2009, seemingly as a way to strengthen his austerity message in negotiations, Brogan released a “budget reduction plan” calling for the elimination of 140 unfilled positions and an additional 30 filled positions. In what seems to be part of Brogan’s modus operandi, he made sure to gain the political/public relations advantage by announcing the plan in a video message that was part of his “Inside FAU” series.

In that video message, Brogan makes a point to mention that of the 30 filled positions, “only five faculty members” will lose their jobs. What he doesn’t say is that those five faculty members from FAU’s College of Engineering all had tenure. And, he also makes no mention that his administration attempted to circumvent the union contract through a scheme that will sound disturbingly familiar to PASSHE faculty members. According to Tracy, Brogan and his administration wanted to get rid of these five faculty members because, despite being excellent teachers, they were not “producing” as much research or bringing in as much grant money as some of the other faculty in the college. That is not to say that the faculty were slouches. Rather, Brogan got it in his mind that faculty in the College Engineering should be doing research well beyond what was demanded in the contract.

Once again Brogan had it his way and turned to his trusty consultant Susan Clemmons. The union’s contract dictated that any faculty cuts – especially when it came to the extreme cases of cutting tenured faculty – had to proceed by seniority in a department. Problem was, the faculty Brogan wanted to cut were not at the bottom of the seniority list. Brogan took Clemmons’s recommendations to create “pseudo departments,” transfer those five faculty members to those departments, and then eliminate that department. Presto, problem solved. If a department is being cut, and there are only five faculty members in that department, you do an end run around the contract’s seniority provisions. And Brogan gave it a good college try. At the end of May 2009, the five faculty members received a brief letter from the Dean of the College of Engineering telling them they had until August 8, 2009 to clear out their offices.

A couple of weeks after the firings took place, in June 2009, an emergency Faculty Senate meeting was called to discuss what happened. Jim Tracy described that meeting this way:

The faculty senate held a special meeting in June – a week or two after this took place. A professor in political science, Tim Lenz, the president of the faculty senate was the one who was involved in organizing the meeting. The room was packed. It was standing room only; I had to stand in back. People were outraged. The provost was sitting there with his head in his hands. It suggests to me that this was done by Brogan with the suggestion of the Trustees. There was one Trustee there…he was a busy-body…and he had this dream about revamping the College of Engineering. He was an entrepreneur as well. He made his money in tech and so forth. This is what he had in mind and he might have put that in Brogan’s ear and that’s something they went with.

Following persistent pressure from UFF-FAU, the filing of an unfair labor practices charge against FAU, and, perhaps most importantly, the departure of Brogan from FAU, the university eventually reinstated all the fired faculty members – tenure and seniority in tact.

No Clean Slates: There’s a Reason We Study History

I suspect that Brogan’s first days as Chancellor will be filled for calls to “give the guy a chance.” I will not be joining that chorus. As a PASSHE faculty member myself, I’ve heard that story twice before. And each time, we’ve seen aggressive attacks on PASSHE universities led by former Florida State University System administrators. This time around I think it’s time for faculty and our faculty union to let the new chancellor earn his way into our good graces. Brogan can have his “honeymoon period” AFTER he demonstrates his commitment to public higher education. If Brogan wants a positive working relationship with faculty that’s different from his past relationships, well…let’s see it. I’m with Beyoncé on this one. If you want it, put a ring on it. Otherwise, you ain’t gettin’ none.

My next article on Brogan features my interview with the current UFF-FAU president, Chris Robé, who provides yet another perspective on Brogan’s tenure at FAU and his time as Chancellor of the Florida State University System.  Robé’s assessment of Brogan provides more reason for those invested in public higher education in Pennsylvania to pay attention.  Here’s a snippet of my interview with him:

Brogan would go anyway in which the wind blows. Whoever is in power, he will do the bidding of those people. In our state we have Rick Scott who’s ostensibly in power here. Really, in terms of education, it’s run by Bush still – Jeb Bush – behind the scenes. He’s really pro on-line courses and privatizing public universities and what not. So, Brogan…that’s his schooling. He went from FAU to become our Chancellor and he’s very hands off as Chancellor. You never hear from him. He sort of like a non-entity; but, he won’t be a buffer either. I guess that’s the negative side. He doesn’t understand education.

As I was winding up my interview with Jim Tracy, I asked him if he had any messages for Pennsylvania faculty as Brogan takes over the reigns of PASSHE.  When I told him about APSCUF’s two-year contract fight, Governor Corbett’s proposals for slashing PASSHE’s funding, and the most recent moves to cut faculty at 8 PASSHE universities – the cuts at Clarion University being the first example for what is in store – Tracy remarked, “I think Brogan will feel right at home.” Not a comforting thought in the least. For faculty, he had these simple words of advice:

“Keep your back to the wall and stay vigilant.”

I plan on taking that advice.

 

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  1. Advice from Florida on New PA State University System Chancellor: “Keep Your Back to the Wall and Stay Vigilant” | APSCUF-KU xchange
  2. Pennsylvania has had it with Tom Corbett |
  3. Fight to Save PASSHE Faculty and Programs Continue | Raging Chicken Press

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