Pa. state university system chief to retire

Chancellor Frank T. Brogan, center, during the board of governors meeting at the Dixon Center, in Harrisburg, PA, October 6, 2016. ( JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer )

The chancellor of Pennsylvania’s state university system, which is about to undergo changes in the wake of financial and enrollment woes, will retire Sept. 1, a decision that was announced unexpectedly Monday afternoon.

Chancellor Frank T. Brogan, 63, informed the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s board of governors last Wednesday, just before a much-anticipated report on restructuring the system was released to the board and the public, said Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the system.

Brogan has led the 105,000-student, 14-university system for almost four years. He took the helm Oct. 1, 2013.

“While there is never a perfect time for a transition such as this, my family and I know we leave behind a system that is primed for the future, led by a team committed to making sure our students always come first,” Brogan said.

Marshall said Brogan, who earns nearly $346,000 annually, chose not to announce his departure at last week’s board meeting in Harrisburg because he didn’t want to detract from the release of the report, which has received mixed reviews from legislators and other observers. The administration also announced last week that the system expected another enrollment decline this fall and would raise tuition 3.5 percent to help offset half of a nearly $72 million projected shortfall for 2017-18. Universities will have to make cuts to erase the rest, the system said.

His departure has nothing to do with the release of the report, Marshall maintained. He wasn’t sure when Brogan made his decision.

“All he said is he’s been thinking about it for some time, he and his family,” Marshall said.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a Boulder, Colo., consulting group hired by the system to conduct the review, didn’t recommend closures or mergers of campuses following a 12 percent enrollment decline among the 14 universities since 2010. But the group did suggest consolidation and staff reductions for schools with the greatest enrollment declines and budget gaps, an overhaul in the system’s governance, and more stable and stronger leadership at the universities.

Several members of the legislature said they expected more weighty recommendations and a detailed action plan for the system, consisting of Bloomsburg, Clarion, Cheyney, California, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Slippery Rock, Shippensburg, and West Chester universities. The system paid the group nearly $400,000 for the report.

News of Brogan’s departure stunned the university’s faculty union, which has had brushes with Brogan, including a strike last fall over wages and working conditions.

“I do think new leadership brings opportunities, too, so we’re looking for an opportunity to work with the system and to try to get rid of some of the conflict,” said Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union and a political science professor at East Stroudsburg.

State Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R., Bucks), who’s on West Chester University’s council of trustees, said he enjoyed working with Brogan, who brought a fresh point of view from his previous post in Florida, and found many of the suggestions in the report in line with his thinking.

“I was looking forward to him implementing that,” Tomlinson said. “I would have loved to work with him.”

Sen. Judith L. Schwank, a Berks County Democrat who also serves on the system’s board of governors, said she hopes the board can find a replacement expeditiously, who can lead the system through the change and stays for a while.

“We need some continuity,” she said. “That’s for sure.”

Brogan’s departure comes as five of the 14 university presidents — those overseeing Mansfield, Shippensburg, Clarion, Bloomsburg, and Millersville — have retired or are planning to leave within the next year.

Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester County) said the system should use Brogan’s exit as a chance to look at the whole structure of higher education in the state and within the system.

“We have a unique opportunity now to bring about an efficient and effective coordination of higher education, and we should take advantage of it,” he said.

In an email to trustees, Brogan underscored the opportunity for change.

“This is the system’s chance to make bold choices that will ensure our universities are here to meet the needs of the students and the Commonwealth for decades to come,” Brogan wrote.

The system plans to launch a national search for a replacement, according to Marshall. An interim leader will be named, he said.

In a prepared statement, board of governors chair Cynthia Shapira said Brogan has illuminated the system’s problems and prompted discussion over how to improve it.

“Because of his leadership, we are better positioned to make important decisions about the future of our system,” Shapira said.

Brogan, who began his career as a fifth-grade teacher, came to the system from the State University System of Florida, where he had been chancellor. He also previously served as president of Florida Atlantic University, lieutenant governor of Florida, and Florida secretary of education.

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