Sunday, April 14, 2024

FAU has its work cut out, Delray’s next big issue & other news of note

Kelly’s report card 

Apparently, John Kelly has done the hard work. Ahead lies the really hard work.

       In just two years, Florida Atlantic University’s president has injected not just a sense of energy but also a sense of urgency. A high-school football player, Kelly would appreciate the comparison between his attitude toward students and that of legendary football coach Bear Bryant toward his players: Be good or be gone.

       Based on the metrics of the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, FAU was the most improved of the 11 state universities between 2013-14 and 2014-15. The previous year, FAU scored 37 points out of a possible 50, with five being the highest for each metric. Last year, FAU got 84 out of a possible 100, tied with the University of Central Florida for top score. One can imagine the private smirking within some FAU offices while reading that the University of Florida scored 82 and Florida State 68.

       One also imagines, however, that the smirking was momentary. In the data-driven system that is nearing the end of its third academic year, universities get points for doing well and for improving. Example: FAU got a full 10 points in Academic Progress Rate—freshmen getting to their sophomore year with a 2.0 Grade Point Average or higher—not because the rate of 72 percent is all that good, but because the rate increased six percentage points.

       FAU deserves a lot of credit for that improvement. The university has added counselors, and they practically stalk students who are in danger of falling behind or aren’t keeping up. Technology upgrades allow administrators to target students for help before they get in too deep.

       Soon enough, though, improvement alone won’t be enough. Kelly will have to take FAU to good, and then to very good. Riding on those annual scores is performance money from the state. Do badly, as FAU did early in that first year, and universities can lose money. The new reports came out at last week’s meeting of the Board of Governors.

       FAU’s biggest challenge is improving the rate of graduation within six years. Between 2008 and 2014, it was 45 percent. Between 2009 and 2015, it was 48.4 percent. FAU got six out of 10 points for improvement, but none for excellence. The graduation rate at the University of Florida is 86.5 percent. UF got 10 points for excellence.

       Still, Kelly and his team are shaping up the roughly $300 million enterprise that is FAU. The university is awarding more degrees, and more degrees in the fields of science, math and engineering. More students are graduating without having wasted time and money on superfluous courses. It’s also happening as the share of money per student from the state is shrinking and the share from tuition and fees is rising. More about that later.

       In its report to the Board of Governors, FAU states its desire to become “the country’s fastest-improving public research university.” Of the $11.4 million in performance money FAU will receive for that good report card, Kelly will put $5.7 million toward faculty raises and most of the rest toward raising the rate of academic progress and graduation. Kelly knows that FAU soon won’t be competing against the others but against FAU.

And a long-overdue meeting

       Since that report card has put the FAU Board of Trustees in such a good mood, now would be a good time for the trustees to schedule that long-delayed meeting with the Boca Raton City Council to talk about the 20th Street student district and other mutual priorities.

The Trump-FAU connection

       Speaking of FAU, among Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers is a former FAU professor.

       During his meeting Monday with Washington Post editors and reporters, Trump got a question about whom he relies on for guidance. He named Walid Phares and others. According to FAU, Phares was an adjunct professor from 1994 until 2003, when he became an associate professor of political science. He left FAU in April 2006, although he was scheduled to lecture last month at the Florida Society for Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University.

       The New York Times called Phares, who has written four books on the Middle East, “perhaps the most prominent of the group.” The article added that Phares “is regularly accused by Muslim civil rights groups of being Islamophobic and of fear-mongering about the spread of Sharia law.” Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

       In interviews, Phares—who has been an analyst for Fox News—regularly criticizes the Obama administration’s policies on the Middle East and counter-terrorism. This week, he found time to criticize Obama’s Cuba policy. As an adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, Phares was seen as a neoconservative. Trump, however, favors a far less interventionist approach.

       Foreign policy experts mostly reacted to Trump’s disclosure by questioning the advisers’ credentials. Phares is listed as the provost of BAU International University in Washington, D.C., “which aims at providing a unique and invaluable opportunity to train world citizens who possess the necessary tools for living up to our global vision,” according to its website.

       The Washington Post reported that during Lebanon’s civil war, “Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon’s Muslim and Druze factions,” according to former colleagues. The Post also reported that Phares “was a close adviser” to a Lebanese warlord. In the early 1990s, Phares obtained a doctorate at the University of Miami, and then wound up at FAU.

The next big Delray scuffle

       It may not happen until May, but the next big development fight in Delray Beach is looming.

       At a recent city commission meeting, residents of the Tropic Isle neighborhood south of Linton Boulevard and east of Federal Highway turned out to criticize the proposed expansion of Delray Place. The retail-restaurant project at Federal and Linton that features Trader Joe’s wants to expand on an adjoining parcel to the south.

       Tropic Isle residents fear traffic congestion if the city approves the expansion, and they have a record of success when it comes to opposing development. In 2010, Walmart wanted to put a store on the 6.5-acre site that had been home to Ralph Buick. After Tropic Isle protested, the proposal died. The property remains vacant. It sold in late 2013 for $6.5 million, about $3 million less than the purchase price in April 2008, BTC (Before The Crash.)

       With Delray Place, I’m told that the problems are parking and traffic circulation. Expanding to the south could address those problems. Based on what commissioners told the folks from Tropic Isle that night, however, the burden of proof for the property owner will be especially high. Suffice to say that the Tropic Isle residents went away reassured, at least for now.

Congressional races

We may be nearly a year into the presidential campaign, but an early sign of the area’s congressional races hit mailboxes in Boca Raton this week.

       U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch began introducing himself to new voters. Deutch needs to do this because of developments last summer.

       Deutch represents District 21, which includes most of southwest Palm Beach County and part of Broward. Deutch’s fellow Democrat, Lois Frankel, represents District 22, the coastal area from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Last year, though, the Florida Supreme Court found the current congressional map to be unconstitutional and approved a new map proposed by plaintiffs who brought the successful lawsuit over the Fair Districts Amendments. Voters approved them in 2010 to prevent gerrymandering.

       The new District 22 ends at Highland Beach and has much more of Broward. District 21 still includes the areas west of Boca Raton and Delray Beach—including Deutch’s home in Boca Falls—but it now has much of the current District 22, including Frankel’s home in West Palm Beach. Both new districts still favor Democrats.

       Party leaders wanted to avoid a Deutch-Frankel primary. Obviously, one incumbent had to yield. That turned out to be Deutch. You can assume that Frankel made clear her wish to retain West Palm Beach, where she was mayor for eight years. So Deutch shifted from the district where he lives to the district where he does not live.

       Legally, there’s no problem. Florida requires only that members of Congress be registered to vote in the state. Politically, it probably will come up in the campaign, but Deutch can credibly argue that the new map was beyond his control and that it makes no sense to move when the Legislature will draw another map in six years.

       At this point, two Republicans have filed papers to run in District 22. Two others have filed to run in District 21. The qualifying period is June 20-24.

      

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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