A weekend interview with incoming Florida university system chancellor Frank Brogan
Over the years, Frank Brogan has become a familiar face in Florida education policy and politics. A former Martin County teacher, principal and superintendent, he served as state education commissioner before being tapped to become lieutenant governor under Jeb Bush. He left the Bush administration to lead Florida Atlantic University, his alma mater, where he's remained for six-plus years. Now Brogan is slated to become chancellor of the State University System. He spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about Florida higher education leadership, planning, funding and reputation during his first full interview since winning the new position.
Why would you want to take on this role at this time?
I just six months ago began a new six-year contract at Florida Atlantic University. I love this university. It's been great to me and my family. We've done together some really extraordinary things during my first six years here. And the university is really coming into its own, to a great degree. ... It would be a logical question to ask, then, why would you early into your new six-year contract look at the role of chancellor and see yourself in it?
The answer, and please believe me I'm not trying to be overly noble here. I'm really pure of intent when I say this. I have a fairly interesting resume, which means I have a fairly interesting set of experiences. By most accounts I've been pretty good at all of them. And that's not a statement of arrogance. I've got nothing to be arrogant about. But I think the resume is as interesting as it is because it's an accumulation of successful opportunities that I've pursued.
And I looked at the role of chancellor right now. Not years gone by, but right now. And having worked in higher ed now for six and a half years, look at some of the challenges that we face. We need clearly to better establish quality reputation for our existing higher education system. We need to engage, to a greater degree, important partners around higher education. The governor's office, who has really strongly begun to support higher education. The Florida Legislature, obviously, the House and Senate leaders and the members in general, who all love and respect higher education. But I think it's a matter of getting people better organized on how we can move forward together as a state....
Can I ask you about the Legislature and the governor? They have a role that many people have questioned when it comes to higher ed. Do they really care? Because of the issues of financing and control. Where do you see the role of the universities and the role of the Legislature and governor coming together in a more productive way?
They're critical to this mission. We cannot move our higher education system forward without the ... organized support of the governor's office and the House and the Senate. They are important for funding. They are important for research opportunities. They are important in terms of how we interface with their constituents back home. ... So here, what I said to the search committee, and what I believe, is that we've got several issues with which we need to deal.
One, we have to create a predictable funding source for higher education. We took a good step toward that during the last legislative session. That was the differential tuition bill. And by the way, to get that bill, for the first time in a long time we did have everyone singing off the same sheet. You had the 11 universities, their presidents, their boards, the board of governors. You had the business community. And you did have, ultimately, the governor and the leadership of the House and Senate and their members. Everybody working toward the same end. Some of it was obviously necessity, since the economy is where it is. This was one way to create a new revenue stream for higher education. There's no doubt about that. But at the same time, what it did was to provide us with one predictable revenue stream that we now have available to us at the 11 state universities. But beyond that, we need to create a more predictable revenue stream in the area of general revenue.
How can we work with the governor's office, the House, the Senate and all of those partners ... to create a predictable revenue stream so that each of the universities between differential tuition and the predictable revenue source from the Legislature will be able to grow their universities and lay out strategic plans that will carry them out more than year to year?
I will tell you because I just went through the experience here working with our board and our university, knowing what the potential was for the differential tuition allowed us to look at a four-year proposal for the board of trustees ... It also gave our students a more predictable look at what tuition might generally look like for several years instead of wondering from year to year ... as well as showing them how we planned to spend that money.
When you do that at the local college level, that's something you all know because you're there. How does that relate to the Board of Governors, where you're headed, and the overarching structure? Because it seems like a lot of times there's some stresses and tensions over who's in charge and who gets to do certain things. The choosing of a president was one of those issues that came up during the past legislative session.
Yeah. There has been in the past disconnect between the state level and the local level. ... One of the things predictable funding can do is better allow us to create a statewide strategic plan for higher education. And then at the state level work with the individual universities and their boards to determine how those funding streams are going to move each university forward in terms of their strategic plans, which should dovetail with the state's strategic plan and ultimately manifest itself in some quantifiable achievements. ...
For example, retention rates, graduation rates, diversity figures. The things that each of us share in common. How much research are we doing and to what degree of success. How many students are we serving and how many of them are successfully obtaining baccalaureate degrees, master's degrees, PhD's. We're all generally in the same business, and there are quantifiable measures that a strategic plan ought to absorb and then demonstrate not only to the Board of Governors, but also to the Legislature, how we are faring ... with the money that we receive.
The second part of this is that a predictable source of funding then can let us better plan for a multiple number of years for that strategic plan and then implement it in a way that will give us a long-term impact on the system.
Does that mean, then, that we need to look more closely at universities that are offering duplicative services? A lot of times we see everybody wants a medical school, or a law school. Does there need to be more of a plan statewide for that kind of thing?
That's the point. You've said it better than I just did. The strategic plan should supply two things. One, the commonality that we all share. We are all undergraduate degree granting institutions. Many of us are comprehensive research universities. So there are things we share in common. But again, each of us is a bit unique, and should be. I always use this example. When you go to the state of Indiana and say, 'I want to be an engineer,' everybody will quickly point to Purdue. And there is a great deal of duplication in our system of education here in Florida. Some of it is geographically necessary because we are a gigantic state, and it's not as easy for people to navigate a specific degree path if they have to go 600 miles away to do that. But even within the duplication, there is an opportunity for uniqueness. In other words, if a lot of schools offer engineering programs, the question is, do they all have to have exactly the same engineering degrees? ...
A big role of the chancellor is going to be to work with the Board of Governors, the 11 universities and all the other stakeholders I just mentioned to coordinate that kind of plan for the future of higher ed.
That was Thing No. 1. ... You can't just say you want predictable funding and go away. You've got to create an accountability system to demonstrate to everyone where that money is going and what impact it is having down the pipe.
The second thing I talked about was governance. ... And we're talking about two types of governance here. Internal governance. That's the way we organize ourselves as Board of Governors and 11 universities. ... How do we organize ourselves as a system? The good news is, with the past legislative session we took a step forward. Perhaps it was because of economic necessity that made it a little easier. Perhaps we matured to a degree where we had 11 universities and 11 boards of trustees working more closely together than I've seen in my 6-1/2 years in higher ed.
How hard was it to get everybody to do that?
It's not easy, for this reason. These are all people of good intent. They are all passionate about their individual universities and want their individual universities to advance. What could be wrong with that?
But on the flip side, it is not easy to get people to recognize that they are also part of a system, and that it is in the best interest of everyone ... that to the greatest degree possible we are all singing off the same sheet. And I really saw that during this session. I saw 11 presidents, 11 local boards and the Board of Governors working together. ... Good evidence of that is we made a primary issue of differential tuition. We engaged the student faculty organizations from around the state, the Council of 100, the chamber. We really did build a great coalition that all worked together on that effort. And certainly the governor led the charge. ...
At the end of the day, something that started out as a very thorny issue ended up not only passing, but I think demonstrated to everyone that if we continue working together on so many of these critical state university system issues, we can have much greater success in the future.
So the system concept has to be one of organizing and streamlining people to work together better?
Exactly right. And the beauty of it is, we've got some evidence that it works. ... You don't go to the Legislature and ask for a predictable funding source over a multi-year period as one university, or six universities, or three local boards, or eight local boards, or four presidents who just have some political clout in the process, or just the board of governors. You've got to build an organized coalition ... So that's internal.
What do I call the external governance organizations? You've got the governor's office, the Legislature House and Senate, you've got the business community, you have private education in the state of Florida, which is now serving over 40,000 students. And they're a very important part of the future of higher ed in the state.
And really one of the big issues we've got to get our arms around is all the laws that have been passed moving community colleges to colleges and some colleges to state college status. We have a great opportunity to organize ourselves well to create access opportunities that we're going to need for the future by tapping the power of what has been loosely created. But it is still very much in its infancy. I've got here in my service district two new colleges and a new state college. And we've been working very hard with all three of them to make sure that we operate in harmony, that we're not going to create duplication when we can avoid it. And we're going to work to make sure there aren't voids in service because nobody wants to pick up that responsibility.
Doesn't the community college system fall under your old job?
It does. And that's what is going to be important about this. We've got the State Board of Education, which is another one of those governance groups that I haven't mentioned yet, and the Board of Governors. How are those groups going to work together to create the new system of higher education for the state of Florida for years to come. Now, the good news is the vision. What we should end up with if we work together is a multiple delivery system where you have colleges ... and, by the way, geographically spread through the community college system that provides access to people within 50 miles of where they live everywhere in the state of Florida. It was a genius of contrivance. We created the best community college system in the United States.
So you start with that as a platform. They will be as colleges still A.A. and A.S. degree awarding institutions, open enrollment, open access. But they will also have the ability to offer in some places, many no doubt, some limited baccalaureate degree offerings when and where needed. Clearly areas of critical shortage such as teaching and nursing come to mind automatically. And that hasnow begun to spring up around the state over the last three years.
The next delivery system will be state colleges. And like many other states do, we will end up with a budding number of state colleges that will offer associate degrees but also a wide menu of baccalaureate degree offerings that will really provide a significant amount of new access to baccalaureate degree seeking students. We will really have to have that. All of the research that has been done on Florida has demonstrated that we will have to have tens of thousands of new baccalaureate degree holding students for the future of the state of Florida. ...
While you're organizing all of these systems together, whose voice should we be listening to? Because you've got a ton of voices out there, and a lot of people in Florida are wondering who's really running the show with higher ed.
Yeah. Absolutely. It's going to have to be a coalition. ... When I got to be education commissioner for the state, I was an elected commissioner of education. I sat on the Cabinet which at that time was also the State Board of Education for the state, made up of seven people who were also statewide elected officers. We had 67 school districts, each headed by a superintendent who may have been elected or appointed, depending on the school district. Sixty-seven school boards, all of them elected either by district or at-large. You want to talk about a complicated system of governance? It doesn't get more complicated than that.
My job as commissioner of education was to work with all of those people, and not dictate. Because at the end of the day, the State Board, just as the Board of Governors will, sets policy but you really rely on all of those people working together or you're going to create a splintered and fractured system of governance that won't work, when people are pulled in all those directions.
Very similar. My job here is not to become the dictator or czar of higher education. My job is to build broad coalitions of people to make certain that we understand what the issues are, the priorities are, and work toward a common end to the greatest degree possible. ...
It really is going to be a massive responsibility of the new chancellor to develop that type of orchestrated approach to higher education and to ensure that we get all of those constituencies to the greatest degree possible ... working off of the same sheet of music to develop a higher ed system that we can all be enormously proud of.
Because here's the rub. We have a very good state university system. We really do. People get confused over governance. They have angst over some of the productivity of the system. But at the end of the day we have 11 really very fine state universities. But if we're going to go to the next level, we have to organize this thing in a way and we have to develop consistent funding streams to help fuel this engine of economic development. ...
Also pre-k through 12. ... I know how important it is going to be to work to create as great as a challenge as it might be, a seamless system of education in Florida, from pre-k through 12 to college to the state college to the university. ... A student at an elementary school in Florida should know exactly what it is going to take to get to a university. And the skill set that they're beginning to develop there is going to help to determine whether they can do that or not. ...
It seems like you have built into this, the image issue that you mentioned. Because lots of people have the idea that there's no money, that the professors are leaving, that the schools are starting to sag and drag a little bit. How do you deal with that? How do you get people to believe that the system is as good as you say it is?
That is really a good point. You know, it's interesting, the old phrase about a tiger eating its young. One of the things that has happened over the past few years because of the economic situation we continue to find ourselves in is that as people look for new money, they use the old methodology that says, 'Let's tell them how terrible things are and they'll have to give us more money.' It's never worked in K-12 education, although people in K-12 have used it for years and years and years. ... All you do at the end of the day is convince the people that you're asking money from that you're doing a terrible job and that their mission is to fix you. And then you see the tinkering begins with everybody who thinks that they've got the fix to your education system. And it isn't money. It's more laws, more rules and regulations.
You also create an image for yourself that makes one scratch their head and say, 'How do you expect people believe that you are a good system as you want them to while you're telling them how bad you are?' We've got to change that approach. We have to make sure we are evidencing how good we are by showing people and educating people what a good system we are. Are we struggling with economic challenge? Absolutely. Are we having trouble recruiting great faculty and keeping great faculty? We are dealing with the economics of this thing, and that's a big part of it. But at the end of the day, telling people that you're bad is not a great way to draw new faculty. And it's not a great way to enge nder support of the people from whom you need support. So we've got to begin to change that approach.
I just had breakfast with a group of legislators down here in Palm Beach County from Broward and Palm Beach, and we were talking about this. I said, 'You know, we want help with our system of higher education. But you need to now allow the governance structure to begin to gel. You've got to stop tinkering with it. We finally have to say there's no such thing as a perfect governing structure, so let's accept the one we've created and let's work to make it work.' ...
The problem is, we continue to be vexed by our governance structure. We make the governance structure the evil empire. And we spend so much time worrying about the system of governance that we've taken our eye off the ball. ... Let's put our eye back on the ball, which is how do we use this governance structure to advance the cause of higher education in the state of Florida.
It sounds like you have a really big job ahead of you.
Well, that takes me to the third thing I told the interview committee. That's faculty and students. At the end of the day, those are our constituents in higher education. Making sure that faculty have what they need in order to do their job. And I can assure you of several things. If we're going to draw and keep great professors for the future of higher education in Florida, we're going to have to have a predictable funding source that will allow universities to have money to recruit and to reward great professors for our system, and to compensate them.
The second thing we're going to have to do at the end of the day is to make certain that we remember that the students are our most important constituency. They need a continued voice in higher education. It was really courageous of them to step up to the plate as an organized entity and support the differential tuition. That is almost like asking citizens if they will support higher taxes.
Which they never do.
Exactly. And in this particular case the students stepped up to the plate and said, 'We know we're a partner in this. We know the state cannot always be the one who supplies the money for higher ed. And we're willing to go the extra mile.' Now what they're saying, or perhaps asking, is, 'We made our statement. We put our money literally where our mouth was. ... That's our courage. Does the state of Florida now have the courage to put its money where its mouth is and support the system of higher education to a greater degree?' ... The students did this in a tough economy. Does the state have the courage to provide funds for centers of excellence as we once did, so we can continue our research efforts as a state. ... Does the state have the courage to put more E-G money into our universities so we can create more slots for more students and hire more faculty. ... Because that's why we do what we do in higher ed.
So you're going to be their official spokesperson now.
Well, as chancellor I'm virtually everyone's official spokesperson. But clearly my job is to advocate for the positions of the Board of Governors. ... Coalition building will absolutely be a critical component of what this chancellor has to do.
As the parent of a student entering USF and a student entering first grade, I wish you all the best.
I have a 4-1/2 year old. My only child. And I want to make sure for all the right reasons, not least of which is that some day my 4-1/2 year old is going to look for a higher education degree in Florida. I want to make sure he's able to walk into a system that's ready, willing and able to give him everything he needs and everything that his parents want him to have.