FAU chooses Brogan

Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 11:52 p.m.

As was widely expected, Florida Atlantic University's board of trustees named Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan its next president on Friday, making him the second Florida university president tapped in as many months whose political connections outshine his experience in academia.

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Florida's Lt. Governor Frank Brogan reacts before his interview with the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees in the Live Oak Pavilion, Friday, in Boca Raton. He was named president of the university by the board.

(AP Photo/Palm Beach Post, Bob Shanley)

The development led University of Florida board of trustee Chairman Marshall Criser to say for the first time that UF wants an academic and not a politician to come out on top in its presidential search, now set to begin Feb. 20.

After FAU's board unanimously selected Brogan, who holds a master's degree in education from FAU, trustee Nancy Blosser called the two-time running mate of Gov. Jeb Bush "a star" when it comes to "political access."

But while Brogan's connections may be good for FAU, some think his appointment may bode ill for the presidential search at UF - especially coming so close on the heels of former House Speaker T.K. Wetherell's selection as Florida State University's president in December.

"I think it probably will have an effect (on UF's search), and if it does, I think it will be negative," said Robert Atwell, a Sarasota educational consultant and recent past president of the American Council on Education.

FAU Faculty Council Chairman Fred Hoffman said Friday that although he pledged to support Brogan and "help him be the best president he can be," the emerging pattern of political presidents could make it harder for all Florida's universities to attract academic candidates.

"If a politician applies at UF, then the people thinking of applying there may say, 'Well, there's not much of a chance.' "

With a nod to that possibility, for the first time on Friday, Criser declared that he wants to see an "energetic academic" hired as Florida's next president.

"Because of what is going on around us," Criser said, "Without foreclosing any possibilities, I think our primary goal at this time should be to get a very qualified energetic academic - male or female."

Criser's statement is particular poignant considering that he himself was one of two nontraditional presidents hired at UF - the other being former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Stephen C. O'Connell.

With a law degree from Florida and strong political connections, Criser served as UF president from 1984 to 1989. During that time, Criser said he knew some faculty "were never comfortable with a nonacademic."

Before his selection Friday, some faculty criticized Brogan's candidacy because the former elementary school teacher, principal and district superintendent doesn't have a doctorate and has never taught at the university level.

Others were upset that his selection appeared to be a fait accompli, driving away academic candidates. After Brogan said in November that he wanted to apply for the job - but only after he was inaugurated as lieutenant governor in January - the board put off its decision, which was to be announced in December.

The search was then reopened to other applicants.

In a second round of applications, one of three finalists dropped out when the short list came out and Brogan was on it: well-respected literary theorist Stanley Fish of the University of Illinois at Chicago. That left just Brogan and Thomas Hanley, the engineering dean at the University of Louisville.

"There are a lot of Brogan supporters who would have also been happier if the search had appeared to be more open," said Mark Jackson, secretary of the FAU faculty senate.

Brogan's appointment comes on the heels of the selection of Wetherell at FSU, who had twice before applied and been rejected for the job.

The third time was the charm, as Wetherell's lobbyist business partner, fellow former House Speaker and FSU board of trustees Chairman John Thrasher, helped shepherd his application through the process.

"I don't envy Florida State one bit," Jackson said. "In the case of Wetherell, you have a chairman of the board of trustees, who was twice cited for ethics violations while in the Legislature, appointing his business partner."

"If I had to have a politician, I'd much rather have Frank Brogan."

Wetherell does have a Ph.D. in education administration, but his six year-tenure as president of a Tallahassee Community College would not impress the UF faculty, many of whom are adamant that its next president should be a sitting university president or provost - preferably at a sister institution in the selective American Association of University presidents.

Brogan, 49, has said he planned to make a commitment to FAU if offered the job and that he wouldn't use the post to jump in the race U.S. Senate or try to succeed Bush in 2006.

Known for his natty dressing, toothy grin and penchant for wise cracks, Brogan came from a tough background in Cincinnati, where his widowed mother worked as a waitress to make sure her children were fed and clothed.

Brogan became the first member in his family to earn a college degree when he graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in education.

As lieutenant governor, he earns $117,990 a year. FAU's new president is expected to be offered a salary-and-benefits deal worth as much as $2.6 million over five years, plus the use of a new $2 million on-campus home.

Although Criser moved to reassure academic candidates that they are welcome in the UF presidential search on Friday, there are other obstacles that could make finding a new president quickly more difficult.

Among those mentioned Friday by Atwell the education consultant, and UF President Charles Young, are:

  • Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law, which requires presidential searches to be conducted in the open, and, some say, discourages sitting presidents who don't want to damage relations in their current jobs.

  • Deep proposed budget cuts in the upcoming Legislative session, coupled with a history of low state support for higher education and low tuition.

  • A merry-go-round of three systems of state higher education governance in two years - and the prospect of more. Although a new state Board of Governors has elected to send most of its powers to state boards of trustees, it is a constitutional entity which could snatch that power back at will.

    "As I've said publicly - and I still am of the opinion - for the reasons we've just discussed and others, this is probably not the best time to be out looking for a new president at the university of Florida," Young said in an interview, "but it is the time we are looking."

    "Offsetting all of that is the University of Florida is a great university and will be attractive as such," Atwell said, "with a promising future and a great past."

    Young said, "What we need to do is maximize the positives that are present today and minimize the negatives."

    The Associated Press contributed to this report. Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 or millerc@gvillesun.com.

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