Catanese Prepares to Exit

Kelly Tyko

When Anthony Catanese became FAU‘s fourth president on New Year’s Day, 1990, he said he’d stay for 10 years. He reconfirmed that at a press conference on his five-year anniversary, “On Jan. 1, 2000, I’m gone. Ten years means 10 years.”

But 10 years really meant 12, because Catanese is resigning on July 1 – for the same job at a smaller school, but with a fatter paycheck.

Even leaving now was hard for Catanese to decide, he says, “It was truly one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make because this is a wonderful place and things are going great.

“It’s almost like I’m at the top of the game and things are going so well. But then I started thinking, if you have an opportunity to leave then that’s the time you should leave. When everything is fine and great.”

He says that he stayed on two extra years to see the new football program through its first year and conclude the capital campaign, which ended last October.

To Catanese that time was well spent.

“For the capital campaign, we brought in $225 million so that was good reason to stay. It turned out being a smart decision,” Catanese says. “It was also real important for me to stay for the first football season.”

The job offers came in before these goals were met though. In 2000, he applied to be president of the University of Florida, but withdrew his name for two reasons. One was because UF‘s faculty senate passed a resolution saying the slate of finalists wasn’t good enough – this scared off the other five candidates in the race. And then Catanese says he mainly stayed because of the outpouring support of from FAU faculty and students, who circulated flyers and petitions.

There were several other offers for Catanese to leave earlier than July, he told the UP. His two main reasons for staying – football and the capital campaign – brought him the publicity that made his phone ring monthly and then weekly with job offers from other colleges.

With this last phone call, he took the bait. He says he can leave FAU knowing everything will be okay. He’s heading to Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne.

He’ll leave behind a $191,000 salary, a car, a $20,000 annual housing allowance, a $20,000 annual annuity and a new $2 million president’s house.

What he stands to gain is a significant pay increase. Although information on Catanese’s salary at FIT is not public, the last president of Florida Tech earned about $280,000 a year in 1999, according to a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Catanese also leaves behind a legacy marked by many accomplishments.

His prized accomplishments

Twelve years ago, FAU had 10,500 full-time and part-time students. Nearly all of them were on the Boca Raton campus and another south of Fort Lauderdale.

Catanese says proudly, “This isn’t the same university.”

“When I came to FAU, there was talk of closing FAU because they were not providing their mission in Broward. It was a pretty bad situation. The university was not doing its job.”

Catanese describes the situation: “There were very few minorities, FAU was limited almost entirely to the Boca Raton campus, and it was not growing.”

Catanese vowed to change all that – especially the “not growing” part. The statistics under his tenure speak for themselves: The school more than doubled its enrollment to more than 25,000 students, added four campuses and 36 programs, and entered into Division 1 sports. Today FAU is recognized as one of the fastest growing universities in the nation.

But when asked to pick out his most prized accomplishment, Catanese says he’s most proud of providing FAU‘s key mission of accessibility to education.

“We give people an opportunity to get an education. You don’t have to quit your job or abandon your family, you can come here,” Catanese says.

“Sometimes others call us a commuter school and people get upset. I think it’s wonderful because half of our students are non-traditional. I think that’s why we’re here. People who want to take advantage of FAU can do so.”

The diversity of students is different now than the early `90s too. Catanese says the students reflect this region.

“We’re about 60-percent women, 16-percent African Americans, and 14-percent Hispanics. We’re starting to do a really good job of providing access to all the people in the area and all the people that pay taxes.

“I truly created a regional urban university that people can attend.”

By a regional urban university, Catanese means that FAU is not a one campus university in the middle of nowhere, but multiple campuses in the middle of urban areas. It’s how he believes many universities will look in the future.

“I think we’ve pioneered a whole new type of university,” he says.

Catanese doesn’t have similar plans to revamp FIT.

“With private universities, you really change your goals. I think they have a more modest growth curve. They might grow to five or six thousand students. They’re a research institution. Their future is in research. I find that very interesting in the kind of stuff they do,” Catanese says.

His successor

Catanese knows FAU will prosper without him.

“I think all the basics are in place and that people shouldn’t worry too much. Whoever succeeds me will have to do the same things I did, frankly. They are going to have to keep expanding … they’ll have to keep going with the research … and they’ll have to keep up with the sports,” he says.

“If someone comes in here and says lets drop football. Then I think they’ll be in big trouble. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

There are challenges that he foresees though. There are two key issues he says his successor will have to deal with: the politics of the Florida Legislature and funding from the state.

“The state is just going to have to do a better job of funding higher education and education in general,” he says.

If Florida doesn’t do this, Catanese sees a future with higher tuition, bigger classes, and fewer faculty members.

For now though Catanese is excited about FAU‘s future and about leaving it much more stable than when he arrived.

“I think for the students, they should not even notice my departure,” he says. “I do hope they miss me, but it won’t affect them personally because everything is in place. Nothing should really change of any consequences.”