New Chancellor for PA State Universities Comes Complete with Right-Wing Baggage

PART I: Brogan's Legacy in National Agenda to Dismantle Public Schools

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series on incoming PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan. The next part will focus on Brogan’s time as President of Florida Atlantic University. 

Last week the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors chose Frank Brogan to become the next Chancellor of the 14 public university system. Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida. Brogan becomes the third consecutive PASSHE Chancellor to make the 14 plus hour drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. Judy Hample, the former Chancellor of the Florida’s State University System, served as PASSHE Chancellor from 2001 to 2008. From 2008 until this past February, former President of West Florida University, John C. Cavanaugh, became the Chancellor that would preside over the longest faculty contract fight in PASSHE history. This “Florida Connection” has helped usher in an approach to public higher education that favors austerity, privatization, and anti-unionism. Unlike every previous Chancellor search, this time around the Board of Governors decided to pass a new policy that required members of the chancellor search committee to sign confidentiality agreements. According to the new policy, passed unanimously on January 11, 2013,

Preserving confidentiality in the search for a Chancellor is essential to recruiting and retaining the most qualified candidates. All applications and deliberations about individual applications shall remain wholly confidential until the appointment of a new Chancellor is publicly announced. Each member of the search committee must agree to maintain this confidentiality. The Chancellor Search Committee Chair may at his or her sole discretion remove from the committee who violates confidentiality.

PASSHE’s new policy, ensured that the public, faculty, students, parents, and citizens of the Commonwealth would be denied access to deliberations and a thorough vetting of prospective candidates. After the white smoke rose from the Dixon Center on Wednesday, August 7, PASSHE issued a statement on its webpage introducing Frank Brogan as the next chancellor and explaining the Board’s decision.

“The chancellor search focused on recruiting an “experienced leader who, from day one, can guide the System through the rapidly changing higher education landscape,” Mr. Pichini said. “We were looking for a strong administrator and a transformational leader who will collaborate with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders representing divergent views on what is best for our students and their families.
“Frank Brogan will be that leader.” Mr. Pichini continued. “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. We are excited about him becoming our next chancellor.”

PASSHE’s official statement, however, serves more as a public relations press release than an in-depth look at who Frank Brogan is and what kind of policy approaches he will bring to Pennsylvania. The more you reread Pichini’s words, the more hollow they ring. How did the Board understand what this “rapidly changing higher education landscape,” is? What exactly constitutes a “strong administrator” and a “transformational leader?” Who are these “traditonal” and “non-traditional” stakeholders? And when Pichini says Brogan has “an impressive record of success throughout his career,” we should pause and ask “success at what?” One can “succeed” in ensuring all students have access to affordable, public education; but, one can also “succeed” in wresting control of education away from educators and handing it over to corporate profiteers, right? The fact is that students, faculty, staff, parents, and Pennsylvanians deserve better than a closed door, Papal conclave-esque process of decision-making. And yet, here we are. Given that all the “traditional and non-traditional stakeholders” have been prevented from vetting any of the Board’s hand-selected candidates, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. If you read any of the media coverage last week, you probably know these basics:

  • Frank Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida
  • Before that he was the President of Florida Atlantic University
  • Before that he was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor
  • Before that he was Florida’s Commissioner of Education
  • Before that he was a school teacher, principal, and administrator

You might have also enjoyed the “Brogan Love” making it into the reporting: “Frank T. Brogan was the first member of his family to go to college. He didn’t blow the opportunity,” reported the Morning Call. “Brogan was a consensus builder who rallied support for the universities and persuaded lawmakers to restore $300 million in reserve funds and increase state support by 6 percent for 2013-14 after years of cuts,” Tom Auxter, President of the United Faculty of Florida, told Pittsburgh’s TribLive. ” [correction 8/15/2013 1:50pm: Pittsburgh TribLive incorrectly identified Tom Auxter as the President of UFF. Auxter is the President of the University of Florida chapter of UFF. I apologize for repeating the error  *See Note].  “Experienced leader. Visionary. Knowledgeable in dealing with government types. A passion for education. Financially creative. Unquestionable integrity…The board decided … that Frank Brogan … filled that bill,” led the Patriot-News. Most of the reporting, however, fairly accurately reflected PASSHE’s press release. The fact remains that Frank Brogan is a relative unknown for Pennsylvanians. And that should be at the very least concerning given the  assault on public, higher education carried out by Gov. Tom Corbett since 2011. So, who is this guy? And, more importantly, what do we know about the kind of “transformation” he’s got packed in those bags of his?

Key Player in Bringing Vouchers and Charters to Public Education

Long before Brogan became involved with higher education administration, he was one of the strongest proponents of vouchers and privatizing public education – a fact, we should note, that does not appear on his Wikipedia page. In 1995, Brogan was one of the 12 founding members of the Education Leaders Council (ELC). The conservative leaning Washington Times reported at the time that the ELC had an explicit conservative, pro-privatization agenda:

A dozen top state education officials today will announce the formation of an organization oriented toward local control of schools, rigorous academic standards, and parents’ right to choose the schools their children attend. Six state school chiefs and six state school board members form the nucleus of the Education Leaders Council, a network of largely conservative school leaders who promise to abandon “the status quo and the Washington-always-knows-what’s-best philosophy of education reform.” Formation of the council, which will be based in Washington and at least temporarily affiliated with the Center for Education Reform, signals a crack in the liberal education lobby that education analysts say is “a delayed reaction” to the 1994 elections that gave Republicans control of Congress. Two of the state school chiefs spinning off into a new organization have withdrawn from the 87-year-old Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) because it spends their money to lobby against programs they favor. Others may follow suit.

The ELC’s roots as an outgrowth of the pro-privatization, anti-union Center for Education Reform marked a calculated strategy by pro-corporate conservatives to launch an offensive against the American system of public schools with elected officials in the spotlight of a new organization. The ELC seems to have been spawned at a July 29-30 meeting of conservative education administrators at the 1995 National Governors Conference (now the National Governors Association, who were responsible for authoring the “Common Core” for the nation’s public schools). A Center for Education Reform press release dated July 29, 1995, describes the meeting as follows:

Education officials from at least five states will hold a private meeting at this weekend’s National Governors’ Conference to discuss what options are available to them in achieving such education reform measures as standards and assessments, school finance, charter schools and to increase local control.

In that same press release, founder and president of the Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, described the reason for the meeting as follows:

Some of the issues that are most important to these officials – and to parents in their states – are taboo among education special-interest lobbies…You can’t discuss choice, or charter schools, or even standards, without setting off alarms and inviting heavily funded, and, frankly, some heavy-handed attacks from education unions, lobbies, associations.

Allen contemptuously calls the collection of education unions, lobbies, and associations “the blob.” Frank Brogan was not merely a member of the ELC, he served for years as the ELC’s Chair. During his tenure as ELC Chair, Brogan was also serving as the Florida Commissioner of Education and would often advocate for vouchers and school privatization using both titles – without a hint of a possible conflict of interest. His testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce concerning H.R. 328, “The Dollars to the Classroom Act,” could have been lifted right out to today’s right-wing dominated language about “School Choice”:

We at the State and local level feel the crushing burden caused by too many Federal regulations, procedures, and mandates. Florida spends millions of dollars every year to administer inflexible, categorical Federal programs that divert precious dollars away from the classroom and fulfilling our most important purpose, improving student achievement … … In practice most Federal education programs typify the misguided, one size fits all command and control approach that we in the States are abandoning. Most have the requisite focus on inputs like more regulation, increasing budgets, and fixed options and processes … … This approach goes against the growing tide of freedom and innovation currently sweeping the education landscape in our States. We at the State and local level are stressing standards, choice, enterprise and accountability and pushing authority and control of decisions and budgets to the school level. Through innovations like charter schools we are giving public schools true autonomy with respect to budgeting, curriculum and personnel and meaningful choices to parents in exchange for accountability for results. Money alone will not solve the problems of education, We must be smarter about how we spend it … … States can learn from the success and mistakes of others, as we’ve done with the ELC, with the freedom to emulate such programs as models and/or discard those that are ineffective. Nothing typifies this better than the growing charter school movement. I’m proud to say that Florida is one of the fastest growing States in the Nation in terms of the number of public charter schools approved and in operation … … This innovative reform is succeeding because charter schools are able to focus on academic achievement. They are not burdened with unnecessary regula our public schools. They are accountable, autonomous, and provide healthy competition by providing choices to parents and teachers.

While Michelle Rhee has gained near celebrity status for her leadership in privatizing and charterizing public schools, this agenda had been going strong for over 12 years before she launched herself into the national spotlight during her “Reign of Error” as Superintendent of DC Public Schools. The Education Leaders Council is also notable in that it helped establish the Pennsylvania-Florida connection in terms of bringing shock-doctrine policies to public education. One of the other influential founders of the ELC was Eugene Hickok, Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of Education under Republican Governor Tom Ridge. Hickok, of course, went on to become George Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Education in 2003. The Deputy Secretary of Education has a key role in developing and managing policies for the Department of Education. Hickock resigned his position just a year later, one week after the release of a federal study finding that charter schools had higher numbers of poor and minority students not meeting performance standards compared to their regular public school counterparts. As Florida’s Lieutenant Governor under Republican Jeb Bush, Brogan is credited with authoring Florida’s “Bush/Brogan A+ Plan for Education,” which, according to testimony he  gave before the Florida Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families Hearing on “Academic Achievement in 1999,

The A+ Plan is a comprehensive accountability system, built on this foundation that significantly raises the achievement bar. Beginning this year, Florida schools will receive report cards and be graded on a scale of A – F based principally on how students perform on the FCAT. Importantly, schools will also be measured according to how well their lowest performing students learn, and will not receive high marks if these students are left behind. These grades are not simply window dressing. Our accountability package contains significant incentives and rewards for success as well as serious remediation and consequences for failure … … For schools that don’t measure up, there is additional assistance available for remediation as well as consequences for continued failure. If a school receives an F for two years in any four year period, students become eligible for Opportunity Scholarships which would allow them to attend the public (traditional or charter) or qualifying private school of their choice. State money allocated for the education of that child would follow. The people of Florida have determined that we can¹t continue to wait for schools to improve while the children they are supposed to serve are left further and further behind.

Sound familiar? It should. The Bush/Brogan A+ Plan served as the right-wing’s blue-print for privatizing and charterizing public education across the country. In 2001, Brogan’s work earned him a place on Jeb Bush’s more famous, and newly elected, brother’s 31 member education advisory panel to “manage” the transition to the Bush era of education reform. Brogan accompanied two other ELC members, Pennsylvania’s Eugene Hickok and Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan, on President George Bush’s panel.

Brogan’s work with Pennsylvania’s Eugene Hickok should give all Pennsylvanians who care about public education cause for concern. If Frank Brogan helped write the playbook for the charterizing of public education and the closing of schools in Philadelphia right now, Hickok worked with former Gov. Tom Ridge to try and break Philadelphia’s teachers unions. One of Gov. Tom Ridge’s priorities was passing Act 46, the law that allowed the State to take over financially distressed school districts and disregard most union contracts. Over the past couple of years we have seen Act 46 bearing fruit. The Philadelphia Public Schools were taken over by the State and under the management of the State’s School Reform Commission (SRC), Philadelphia Public Schools are facing complete collapse. In perhaps the greatest irony of this right-wing wet dream is that the final destruction of Philly’s public schools is being done with the blessing of Democratic Mayor, Michael Nutter. Call it the carrot and the stick. Brogan makes the feel-good arguments about wanting to rescue students in failing public schools through the wonders of the market. Hickok helps lead the charge to destroy teachers unions. And if you think that Hickok’s specter does not haunt current clashes between teachers and the State, think again. As Gov. Corbett enjoyed his kayaking excursion down the Allegheny and Conemaugh rivers in Western PA this past Tuesday, he dispatched his budget secretary to deliver the message that the State is withholding $45 million in funding for Philly’s schools until the teachers agree to major concessions in their contracts.

It is remarkable that Brogan’s two decade’s of “leadership” in helping to privatize and profitize public education is virtually absent from reporting on his new position as PASSHE’s next Chancellor. While it’s fair to ask how much of Brogan’s pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-privatization agenda for K-12 public schools will carry over to his leadership of the 14 universities of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, we must remember that the PASSHE Board of Governor’s barred us from asking those questions of Brogan when he was only a candidate for the position.

Board of Governor’s Chair, Guido Pichini’s insistence that all members of the search committee sign confidentiality agreements ensured that we – “traditional and non-traditional stakeholders,” to use PASSHE’s language – would have no ability to influence the Board’s decision. Pichini’s assurances that he, as Chair of the Search Committee, “promise[d] a thorough and exhaustive search,” were all we got. Somehow that is not all that comforting coming from a Heritage Foundation Associate and a guy who has presided over the outsourcing of PASSHE university security services to his own company. It’s also significant that PASSHE educates a substantial number of the Commonwealth’s teachers. The 14 universities that make up PASSHE got their start first as normal schools, then as a teachers’ colleges before becoming a comprehensive university system in 1982.  PASSHE universities are still the go-to schools for Pennsylvanians – especially working and middle-class Pennsylvanians – who want to become teachers. How will Frank Brogan’s history with K-12 education influence colleges of education at PASSHE universities? We don’t know, we didn’t get to ask.

The short of it is that there is a lot to get up to speed on before Frank Brogan starts his first day as PASSHE Chancellor on October 1.

We can only guess, at this point, why Frank Brogan chose to leave his post as Chancellor of state university system three times the size of PASSHE, move his family from the sunshine state to the freezing rain state, and step out of Florida’s persistent political spotlight. All at a pay cut, mind you. Is he positioning himself for a run at Governor in 2018? Will “transforming” PASSHE into a higher education version of charter schools help propel him to a cabinet position if Republicans take the White House back in 2016? Again, we don’t know. I think it would be naive, however, to assume that he just wants to get out of the spotlight. Frank Brogan’s career has shown an upward trajectory since he became a teacher fresh out of college. What does he have to gain by becoming the “strong” and “transformational leader” of PASSHE? Or, put another way, why has PASSHE’s Board of Governors gone out of its way to conduct its first-ever secret search seeking out such a national figure battle-hardened in over a decade of a right-wing campaign to dismantle public schools and destroy teachers unions? My gut tells me that faculty, students, and staff are in for quite a ride over the next few years.

Next Up: Faculty Fights at Florida Atlantic University

In the up-coming weeks, Raging Chicken Press will publish a series of articles looking into PASSHE’s new Chancellor and goings-ons at PASSHE’s headquarters in Harrisburg. In my next piece, I will take a look at a bitter fight Brogan picked with faculty during his tenure as President of Florida Atlantic University. Brogan so angered FAU’s faculty with his austerity policies, firing of tenured faculty members, and disregard for academic freedom that the faculty union, United Faculty of Florida-Florida Atlantic University (UFF-FAU) reacted to his appointment as the Chancellor of the Florida State University System in August 2009 like this:

Brogan’s appointment to oversee the BOG, a body proposed by former Florida Democratic Governor and US Senator Bob Graham to temper the wild-eyed “reform” of Florida’s higher education system advocated by Brogan’s close political associate Jeb Bush, is a slap in the face to the faculty of the entire SUS. While we are not holding our breath, UFF-FAU is curious to know how Brogan will proceed to reprimand himself, or if he will again cavalierly dismiss the concerns articulated by UFF-FAU, FAU’s Faculty Senate, and now the the American Association of University Professors. Moreover, one has to call into serious question the integrity of a system that rewards malfeasance with even loftier and more powerful positions.

Given PASSHE’s recent history of deep cuts in academic programs and faculty, the firing of tenured faculty members, and decreasing transparency, the FAU experience may be instructive. Given that PASSHE has already announced plans for more faculty retrenchment at several universities and that the next round of faculty contract negotiations set to begin in the not too distant future, the FAU experience may be all to relevant. Look for my piece on Brogan’s time as FAU president and Chancellor of the Florida State University System next week.

*Note on 8/15 correction. As it turns out, Tom Auxter is the UFF President. He works at University of Florida. I apologize to readers and the folks at Pittsburgh’s TribLive for my error. 

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1 Comment on New Chancellor for PA State Universities Comes Complete with Right-Wing Baggage

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