Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brogan lacks backbone to protect SUS from Scott

More than a year ago, Chancellor Frank Brogan should have told Gov. Rick Scott to stay in his lane and stop trying to control presidential employment decisions in the State University System of Florida (SUS). But Brogan continues to look the other way as Scott persists with his power grab at public universities.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is right to step in and do the hard work of fighting Scott. Brogan has zero commitment to protecting SUS schools from the political interference of the governor’s office.

Brogan was hired back in 2009 to help the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) repair its credibility problem with the state legislature. The BOG became a joke in Tallahassee after it sued the legislature for control of tuition-rates in 2007. The Florida Senate introduced a constitutional amendment to place the BOG under the lawmakers’ supervision. When Chancellor Mark Rosenberg appeared before a senate committee to speak against the measure, senators publicly ridiculed him. Rosenburg resigned soon after the embarrassing incident.

When Brogan came aboard in 2009, he helped the BOG get out of its politically suicidal decision to sue the legislature. He and lawmakers negotiated a compromise in 2010 that permitted the BOG to set differential tuition rates. Under the law, the BOG has the power to approve university-level requests to hike tuition by an up to 15 percent “differential” that goes beyond the rates set by the legislature in the annual appropriations bill. The differential is not covered by Bright Futures.

But ever since the differential tuition compromise, Brogan has largely gotten the same brush off that Rosenburg did before he stepped down. The current governor just does what he wants to do in the SUS without paying any mind to what Brogan says.

The creation of Florida’s 12th public university is one example. Back in 2012, Brogan promoted the BOG’s multi-step plan to transition USF-Polytechnic to an independent school. But Scott basically told Brogan to sit down and shut up by tossing the BOG’s roadmap aside and signing a bill that made USF’s Lakeland campus into Florida Polytechnic University immediately.

A Miami Herald blog reported that the “bill essentially overturns an independence path laid out in November by the Florida Board of Governors, which is charged with setting policy for the state university system. The BOG wanted USF Poly to stay under USF's umbrella until it gets its own accreditation, increases enrollment and builds at least two of the buildings on its new campus.”

Scott continues to run over Brogan. The governor injected himself into the University of Florida’s (UF) presidential search process by meeting with the front-running nominee for the job. He then released a joint press statement with the UF board chairman announcing that the $41,000 search process had been discontinued and that Bernie Machen would remain president. Brogan wasn’t even mentioned in the press release.

Brogan has said nothing against Scott’s decision to get involved in UF’s presidential hiring process, just like he said nothing when SACS scolded the governor for trying to pressure FAMU’s Board of Trustees to suspend then-President James H. Ammons in December of 2011. SACS is now investigating whether Scott went too far in his involvement with UF’s presidential decision.

It’s too bad that an accountability organization based in Georgia has to constantly battle to keep improper political influence out of Florida’s public universities. But that’s what happens when a university system has a chancellor who doesn’t have enough backbone to fight the governor’s office.

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