As the head of Florida's state university system, Frank Brogan will be integral to Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to implement higher education reforms.
The good news for Scott is that Brogan agrees with some of his critiques of higher education.
Brogan said the governor has made it clear he wants to start conversations about how to change higher education, and that Scott wants to "start them in a way that will assure there is change that comes as a result."
Scott has spent months exchanging letters and meeting with various higher education stakeholders in advance of a higher education reform proposal expected by the end of the year. Some of his ideas may take the form of a legislative proposal while others could be implemented by the State University System Board of Governors.
But absent a formal proposal by Scott, which is expected later this year, what ideas Brogan supports and which proposals he shows resistance to offer clues as to what reforms may be successful.
Speaking to a House panel on Wednesday, Brogan said universities should embrace performance-based funding, be open to more scrutiny of tenured professors and be more aggressive in producing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates, all references to policies Scott has shown an interest in.
"We need to move toward more of an outcome-based funding model for the state university system," Brogan told the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. This means tying state funding to outcomes, such as graduation rates, job placements, and degree production.
Brogan said the university system is already working on establishing a better accountability system.
The state should "move away from the days of just spending money and hope and pray it comes out the right way," Brogan said. Meeting later with reporters, Brogan said he would support attaching student performance after graduation back to the school or professor that student had as a way of measuring success.
"Yeah, as long as you are looking at trends," Brogan said. "What you are really looking for in the evaluation process as it relates to student success are trends. Because, let's face it, in our business there are going to be peaks and valleys that are, in some cases, out of control for the individual educator."
When it comes to changing tenure, a controversial topic that many faculty are opposed to, Brogan said what he would like to see examined is how much scrutiny professors receive after obtaining tenure.
"The problem isn't getting tenure," Brogan said. He said the process of obtaining tenure is rigorous and said faculty value it as recognition of their accomplishments and a protection of academic freedom. "The problem is in how we evaluate, on an annual basis, all of our faculty to make sure it is rigorous and focused."
He said universities have varying policies on post-tenure reviews, with some conducting annual reviews and others only doing them every three to four years or every 10 years.
Brogan said universities should be able to re-evaluate some professors who aren't meeting the same tough standards that got them tenure in the first place.
Faculty in Florida are warily watching the higher education debate unfold, saying they are concerned about the increased scrutiny over productivity, their salaries and tenure.
For instance, Scott posted the salaries of all university employees, including faculty, on the "Florida Has a Right to Know" website last week, which sparked concern from faculty who argued that without context, some salaries appear inflated. Brogan said he was also concerned about the appearance that Florida isn't faculty-friendly.
"We need to remember that the marketing of our state university system is critical," Brogan said.
Scott began his interest in higher education reforms by sending copies of a Texas-based higher education reform proposal to colleges and universities for their review. The controversial proposal centers on bringing more accountability to universities, and tracking faculty productivity, with more emphasis on student evaluations.
Lately, Scott has emphasized the need for more STEM degree production over liberal arts degrees, saying universities and colleges need to do a better job responding to work force demands.
Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, said she found Scott responsive when she told him she didn't like some of the higher education reform proposals coming from Texas.
"I think he's reasonable," she said. "If I have an issue with the governor, I ask for time, I sit down and meet with him and we discuss it. I don't think he is trying to demonize (liberal arts) at all."
Brogan said STEM degrees are badly needed in Florida, but not at the cost of liberal arts programs. He also pointed out that Florida universities have already increased their STEM bachelor's degree production by 18 percent.
"We've got to move away from the world of myth and misconception," Brogan said, pushing for more data-driven accountability. "Data doesn't lie. When you hear that people don't get jobs in certain degree areas, unless we have a data system that can show whether it is true or not, you are at the mercy of the rhetoric."