Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Ship it and quit it!


Peter Tatro resigned from FAU while his most expensive accomplishment — the $6 million sale of a ship — was somewhere in the ocean between Florida and Brazil.

For almost two years prior, Tatro was the lead figure in getting rid of the R/V Seward Johnson, the university’s only research vessel.

Tatro, who was an associate executive director at the Harbor Branch campus, consulted on the entire contract of the ship’s sale.

His graphs and presentations set out to prove that the ship was leaking money and had to go.

He was also partly responsible for choosing to cut the ship off from U.S. research funding so it could contract with private companies.

And then, while the ship was on its way to its new home, Tatro sent in his resignation letter to FAU on Dec. 22, which announced both his departure and his new boss — the company that bought the R/V Seward Johnson from the university.

“For my part, I have been asked to join the Cepemar Group,” He wrote. “This is a stimulating and challenging business opportunity for me.”

This “opportunity” might have Tatro working in the Boca campus’s Cepemar office, or maybe Brazil — Cepemar officials refused to comment. At least that’s what the secretary in the company’s two-room office said after explaining that everyone was out “on the field.” All five desk chairs were, indeed, vacant.

She couldn’t confirm that Tatro had in fact been hired, explaining, “Only the GM knows who’s employed.”

As of press time, the general manager of Cepemar’s Boca office, Craig Ash, could not be reached for comment.

The ship was sold in the summer of 2010, leaving for its new home in December. Its destination was Brazil, and it arrived there on New Year’s Eve, a week before Tatro left FAU. Scientists at Harbor Branch, FAU’s oceanographic campus, opposed the sale —they didn’t want to see their only research vessel go away. Administrators argued that the sale would keep the campus from financial disaster.

While Provost Diane Alperin knew that Tatro was leaving, no else did — not until the entire campus received a modified version of his resignation letter two hours before he would no longer be an FAU employee and a week after the Seward Johnson arrived at its destination. [See below]

“As most of you know, I am resigning my faculty appointment and employment at [FAU] effective the close of business today,” wrote Tatro, whose annual salary was more than $150,000. “It has been a privilege and joy to work with all of you.”

FAU professor Robin Radtke, who has a doctorate in accounting ethics, said that, based on the timing of his resignation, it’s safe to assume that Tatro’s negotiations with Cepemar for his new job started well before his resignation from FAU — during the time he was selling them the Seward Johnson.

“It looks questionable if he finalized the deal and then immediately went to work for the buyer,” she said.

Radtke compared the situation to a court trial, explaining that this is why you never see a lawyer representing both sides. Cepemar’s interest, she said, could have been “closer to [Tatro’s] heart.”

“If he had the intent to go to Cepemar and was the negotiator for the sale of the ship at the same time, that’s clear-cut conflict of interest,” she said. “This is Wikipedia knowledge.”

Diane Alperin was out of the country when Tatro resigned and returned only after he was gone. She said, “Everything FAU did was appropriate.”

According to Alperin, Tatro would not have had the chance to steer the sale in his interest since the process was open and transparent.

“When I received his resignation, one of the first things I did was consult the people,” she said regarding relevant FAU administrators. “I feel confident, from everything I’ve been told, that we followed the public process.”

But John Reed, who’s been at Harbor Branch for more than thirty years, said that Tatro’s move seemed fishy.

“Scientists and engineers are rightly disturbed by the unethical activities,” the senior research scientist said, adding that when Tatro joined the institute more than four years earlier, he had told scientists he would sell the ship for $10 to 12 million, almost double its actual price tag. “It was Tatro’s objective to get rid of the ship from the start.”

Three other scientists refused to comment about Tatro on the record.



Peter Tatro bids farewell

On Dec. 22, 2010, Peter Tatro sent his resignation letter to Provost Diane Alperin.

On Jan. 7, 2011, an assistant sent an e-mail to all employees of Harbor Branch — FAU’s oceanographic campus — announcing Tatro’s resignation with a few hours’ notice.

Both letters end with his name.

The two letters had different opening sentences.

Resignation letter: I am writing to resign my faculty …

Farewell letter: As most of you know, I am resigning my faculty …


Then the two letters continue exactly alike:

… appointment and employment at Florida Atlantic University and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute effective the close of business today, Friday, January 7. I have been privileged to serve with Megan Davis and Patrick Boles as the interim leadership of Harbor Branch and am proud of what has been accomplished over the last couple of years. I firmly believe that Harbor Branch and FAU are well positioned for a successful and exciting future in important and relevant marine science and technology areas. The selection of a new Executive Director, with the corresponding appointment of Associate Provost is exciting and bodes well for the work ahead. For my part, I have been asked to join the Cepemar Group to lead a new company that marries environmental monitoring work across several countries and continents with relevant scientific and educational opportunities. This is a stimulating and challenging business opportunity for me. More than that, though, I firmly believe that, in this corporate capacity, I may help create and foster significant scientific and technological research and educational opportunities for FAU. I look forward to a continuing relationship with the university to that end.

The resignation letter ends there, followed by the signature. Tatro’s farewell letter is a little longer; it continues:

It has been a privilege and joy to work with all of you. I came to Harbor Branch 4-1/2 years ago because I believed in the capabilities and mission of the institute and, most importantly, I was inspired by the passion of the faculty and staff. The great legacy of Harbor Branch, and the brilliant future in front of it, is because of its people. You have a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this great story.


Pete Tatro

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