New Chancellor for PA State Universities: Deep Roots in Right-Wing Attacks on Public Education

This article was originally posted on Raging Chicken Press. I will be posting a series of articles about the incoming chancellor, Frank Brogan, in the upcoming weeks. 

Brogan Florida squareLast 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. ” “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.”

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