Five Questions For Outgoing State University Chancellor Frank Brogan

Aug 23, 2013

TALLAHASSEE (The News Service of Florida) — Chancellor Frank Brogan will end — at least for now — his long career in Florida when he starts a new job as head of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on Oct. 1.

Frank Brogan

Brogan has been head of Florida's state university system for four years. He rose from classroom teacher to dean to principal to Martin County schools superintendent to state education commissioner. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. Brogan left that post and served as president of Florida Atlantic University until 2009, when the Board of Governors unanimously chose him to be chancellor of Florida's public universities.

Brogan, 59, will keep his home in Stuart. He would not rule out a future run for office, but said he was committed to Pennsylvania for now. He and his wife, Courtney, have an 8-year-old son.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Frank Brogan:

Q: What are you leaving undone in Florida?

BROGAN: There are a number of things that we have begun that are not institutionalized or created critical mass as of yet, that the next person who follows me — whoever that lucky person is — will have to pick up as soon as they hit the ground running. Issues such as performance funding.

We're going to the Legislature this year. We've begun to chip away at the issue of performance funding to try to bring it to the system this year. We're going for a big request of the Legislature to move significantly into the world of performance funding so that each of the universities will have the chance to lay out clear metrics and then work to increase the accomplishments in those metrics and achieve part of the performance funding model, along with the base that they currently receive. But that's just beginning, and there's still going to be much to do in that regard.

Florida has also been making a significant move into the world of a new economic-development portfolio: better matching degrees with jobs, new business opportunities, spin-off businesses. We've got still a lot of work to do there. We have a commission that's about to finish it's chore called the Access and Attainment Commission under the aegis of the Board of Governors — that group will come out with recommendations about how to better align our academic programs and make certain that if it's undergraduate, graduate or research, that we are doing a better job than ever of aligning student graduates with the job market in Florida and that job market that we also want to create for the state of Florida's future.

We need to create a knowledge-based economy in Florida. Agriculture's fantastic, tourism is a great part of our portfolio. Bur we very much want to create an economic-development portfolio that's balanced by using a knowledge-based economy at the same time. Much to do there.

Q: Are we moving too fast on Common Core?

BROGAN: The standards are basically completed, and most people seem to suggest that they're fair, they're rigorous and they're clear. Where we are now as a nation is trying to navigate the creation of that common assessment. That one is not only prickly, it's political. And I think that before we rush into a common assessment — as people put deadlines on this process — in some cases, I believe those deadlines are unrealistic.

I helped to write the standards for Florida back in the '90s, the Sunshine State Standards. We created, over a two- to three-year period, a common assessment for the 67 school districts. I know that it takes years before you yell, "Go!", to get this right. Otherwise you're going to run the risk of assessments that aren't giving you valid information, aren't fair in terms of how they look at the standards versus the students' achievement, and you're going to be getting flawed data as a result of that.

So I would beg that those around the country responsible for the implementation of those common assessments take a very deep breath and worry less about arbitrary deadlines and more about giving teachers a chance to build curriculum at the local level around those new standards, give school districts and parents the opportunity to understand those standards, and select supplemental materials and textbooks that can help achieve high quality in those standards before we get crazy as a nation about assessing anything. And I think that's the very prickly part of this whole process right now. It's better to get it right than it is to get it fast. And I think fast is being pushed a little bit too much to a greater degree these days.

Q: Talk about how governance of Florida's higher education system has changed.

BROGAN: We are in an infinitely better place today than we were four years ago.

We changed governance structures in higher ed over the last decade or so. We went from one Board of Regents at the state level, no local boards at the universities, to a system of a Board of Governors, which is the overarching regulatory board for our state university system, and local boards of trustees who have significant fiduciary and policy-setting responsibility at the institutional level.

Q: Do the universities have a better relationship with the Legislature now?

BROGAN: The trick has been to try to find a balance between that overarching regulatory responsibility and local control. When I came to this job four years ago — I always remind people, because I think people have selective amnesia. They want to forget these things, and I understand why. I came at a time that I consider to be the Dark Ages for higher education in this state. There was a lawsuit going on between the Board of Governors, the Florida Legislature and others that created an enormous acrimony that's still legend.

There was very little interface between the Board of Governors and the Florida Legislature in those days because of that lawsuit. And the backlash, of course, was felt by the state university system. So we needed to settle that lawsuit. But it wasn't as easy as just walking away from a suit. At the same time we knew that to get it right, we were going to have to work with the Legislature, not only to get a settlement agreement, but to codify it with a complete rewrite of Florida statute relative to higher education.

The Board of Governors, the universities. And that took us the solid first year. But I can tell you that then — once the lawsuit was vacated — the relationship with the Legislature changed dramatically and remains so.

Q: Should Florida have an elected education commissioner?

BROGAN: I've gotten that question over many years, as you might imagine, because I was an elected commissioner of education. I also was an elected superintendent of schools, so for decades, I have gotten the question, "Which is better, an elected or an appointed education official, either at the local level or at the state level?"

My answer is always the same: I know both. I know people who were elected and appointed to these positions. I know some terrible superintendents who were elected and some great ones who were elected. I know some terrible commissioners of education who were elected and some great ones who were appointed or elected. I always believe it isn't how you get 'em, it's who you get, at the end of the day. And whenever there are problems — elected or appointed — one of the first things that always happens is the hue and cry goes up to change the way you get the people.

At the end of the day, it's appointed. I don't see it going back in the state of Florida. But I think the next person who takes the job as commissioner walks into a state with a very, very rigorous expectation to reknit our system of 67 school districts and help to get people pointed in the right direction. The stakes are enormously high here.