Pa. higher ed chief Brogan poised to reinvent system
By Debra Erdley
Published: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
Frank Brogan has a talent for navigating choppy waters in higher education, those who know him say.
Brogan becomes chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education with a charge to change a system with challenges: declining enrollments, a shrinking college-age demographic, stagnant state support, a historically black university threatening court action over uneven support and tension among 14 universities seeking to maintain some autonomy.
What will he need to head such a system?
“The ability to walk on water and turn fishes into loaves,” said Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “These are tough jobs in the best of times.”
When Brogan became chancellor of Florida's public university system in 2009, relations between the schools and lawmakers were so bad that the system's board and a former governor were fighting the legislature in court.
“It was really about who had the authority over tuition,” said Richard Beard, a Tampa businessman who sits on that system's board. “The legislature said they did, and we said we did.”
Beard said Brogan, 60, a lifelong educator who spent eight years as lieutenant governor under then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush before returning to academia, quickly settled the debate. Each side went away with something.
“Frank can make a difference. He'll make a difference for you,” Beard said.
The new chancellor, who is on a listening tour of the universities, said the system that grew out of 14 teachers colleges needs to reinvent itself. He has yet to offer specifics.
State Sen. John Yudichak, a member of the Pennsylvania State System's board of governors, said Brogan's political skills, coupled with decades of experience in education, should serve him well.
“It's trying times. We needed someone with résumé experience and confidence to help us weather the storm and reposition the state system for the 21st century. I do believe you'll see substantive change, constructive change,” said Yudichak, D-Wilkes-Barre.
Many experts in finance predict that by midcentury, the landscape of higher education will be littered with the remains of institutions that failed to adapt to changing needs and the finances of families and students.
Gov. Tom Corbett challenged the schools to maximize their resources, keep tuition increases low and tie programs to state workforce needs.
Officials at the state system are finalizing a strategic plan for the future.
Aaron Walton, a retired Highmark Inc. executive who sits on the system's board of governors and chairs the planning effort, declined to discuss specifics. He said Brogan is reviewing the plan scheduled to be made public in January.
Michael Poliakoff, vice president for policy with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a national group that studies governance in higher education, said Brogan's tenure in Florida was notable for accomplishments.
“He presided over a system and worked well with a very good, strong board of governors to eliminate programs that were no longer serving the needs of the people of Florida, thereby lowering costs,” Poliakoff said.
“And many of the quality measures of the state university system in Florida went strongly upward, even as state support was going sharply downward. He has certainly had a lot of experience doing more with less,” he said.
Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, said Brogan's communications skills were a major asset.
“In Florida, as elsewhere, higher education is tumultuous. No matter what, people have different ideas about what should be done, what schools matter most. His asset here was the ability to speak the language of both the politicians and the education community,” she said.
Some question how that experience will translate in Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, a professor on leave from West Chester University, the largest of the state system schools, said Brogan must respect that the Pennsylvania state system, which the Legislature created in 1983, has been a loose federation.
“He needs to understand that Pennsylvania is not Florida. He needs to understand we want to maintain as much independence as we can and keep the central office as small as possible,” said Dinniman, D-Chester County, voicing concern that high-performing schools could be penalized to assist weaker schools.
Heller said that could be a tough obstacle.
“When you have these (councils of trustees) for each campus, they focus on making their campus the winner. When you have a winner, someone becomes the loser,” Heller said. “The winners you'd like to come out of this are the students, and you'd like the students to be assured of getting a quality education at a reasonable price.”
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Philanthropist helps waitress become nurse
- York teen suspended for asking Miss America to prom
- Dog wardens will canvass state for license compliance
- Tobacco companies expected to contest Pennsylvania’s settlement on payments
- Philadelphia robbers steal $105K from armored truck