Here’s how it works

Mary Jane Saunders
President Saunders at a recent Board of Trustees meeting. Photo by Charles Pratt.

Mary Jane Saunders may be FAU’s president, but she’s not the boss.

She reports to the Board of Trustees.

The trustees are responsible — per state law — for “cost-effective policy,” “high-quality education programs,” and ensuring FAU meets “state policy, budgeting, and education standards.”

In other words, the trustees make the big decisions, the multimillion-dollar decisions.

They’re the ones who let FAU take on $44.5 million in debt to build a football stadium during a recession. They’re the ones who voted for a 15 percent tuition hike in 2010 and 2011 — and could vote for another hike later this month.

The trustees also oversee academic and student matters. They approved the establishment of FAU’s own medical program and recently signed off on updating the university’s discrimination policy to protect gays and lesbians from harassment.

The board gets all this power from the state government as dictated by Florida’s constitution. But as a brainchild of the government, the structure and procedures of the Board of Trustees can be confusing.

So the University Press has broken down FAU’s Board of Trustees and how it fits into Florida’s higher education system.

The system

FAU is one of 11 public universities in Florida. Those 11 universities constitute what’s called the State University System of Florida, or “SUS” for short.

The system is governed by a Board of Governors and 11 boards of trustees. The Board of Governors has 17 members, who govern the whole state university system.

Below the Board of Governors are the 11 boards of trustees, each of which governs one of the state’s 11 public universities.

The board
Robert Stilley
Chair Stilley at a recent Board of Trustees meeting. Photo by Charles Pratt.

Like those of the state’s other 10 universities, FAU’s Board of Trustees has 13 members divided into four categories:

  • 6 members are appointed by the governor of Florida (five-year terms)
  • 5 members are appointed by the Board of Governors (five-year terms)
  • 1 member is FAU’s student body president (one-year term)
  • 1 member is FAU’s Faculty Senate president (two-year term)

The 11 appointed trustees must apply for their positions and, after they are appointed, be approved by the Florida Senate. The student body president and Faculty Senate president automatically become trustees when their presidential terms begin.

FAU’s Board of Trustees has three officers, who are nominated and chosen by the trustees: a chair (currently Trustee Robert Stilley), a vice chair (currently Trustee Anthony Barbar) and the university president (Mary Jane Saunders), who is the main liaison between the trustees and FAU faculty, staff and students.

The chair runs meetings, appoints committee chairs, doubles as the board’s spokesman and initiates the board’s annual evaluation of the university president’s performance. The vice chair completes those duties in the chair’s absence. The chair and vice chair officer positions have two-year terms.

The committees
Anthony Barbar
Vice Chair Barbar

FAU’s Board of Trustees currently has four standing committees but can create additional committees as needed:

  • Academic & Student Affairs (chair: Sheridan Plymale)
  • Audit & Finance (chair: Anthony Barbar)
  • Personnel & Compensation (chair: David Feder)
  • Strategic Planning (chair: Thomas Workman Jr.)

All committees have at least three members, one of whom serves as the committee chair. The board chair, board vice chair and university president sit on all committees, although the president is a non-voting committee member.

Committees vote on proposed actions before the Board of Trustees votes. For example, if the board were to raise tuition, the Audit and Finance Committee would first vote on the action. If the majority of the committee members votes for it, the full board then votes on it.

Committee chairs can be appointed at any time and do not have set term lengths.

The meetings

FAU’s Board of Trustees is required to meet at least five times a year — although with the exception of summer months, the board usually meets once a month.

The trustees meet at FAU, usually alternating between the Boca Raton campus and one of the other six campuses. By law, FAU must notify the public about upcoming meetings, and the meetings must be open to the public. For details on upcoming meetings, visit FAU.edu/BOT/notices.

In addition to attending meetings, trustees can put in as little or as much time as they want, according to the board’s chair and spokesman. The commitment can be “almost a hardship, taking [time] away from family,” added Robert Stilley, who has served on the board since 2006. “I’ve worked with a lot of them for a while. They’re very dedicated.”

State university trustees aren’t paid for their time, although they can be reimbursed for meeting-related expenses like gas.

Sources: Constitution of the State of Florida, Florida Statute 286.011, FAU Board of Trustees Board Operations Policies and Procedures handbook, FAU Student Government constitution, FAU faculty constitution and bylaws, FLBOG.edu, FAU.edu/BOT


All aboard

A term-by-term breakdown of how FAU’s trustees got in:

Anthony Barbar, on board till January 2015

  • Current term: Appointed by the Board of Governors
  • First term: Appointed by the Board of Governors

David Feder, on board till January 2015

  • Current term: Appointed by the Board of Governors
  • First term: Appointed by the Board of Governors

Angela Graham-West, on board till 2016

  • Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott

Jeffrey Feingold, on board till January 2015

  • Appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist

Abdol Moabery, on board till January 2016

  • Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott

Sheridan Plymale, on board till January 2013

  • Current term: Appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist
  • Second term: Appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush
  • First term: Appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush

Robert Rubin, on board till January 2015

  • Appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist

Robert Stilley, on board till January 2016

  • Current term: Appointed by the Board of Governors
  • First term: Appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush

Paul Tanner, on board till January 2016

  • Appointed by the Board of Governors

Julius Teske, on board till January 2016

  • Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott

Thomas Workman Jr., on board till January 2013

  • Appointed by the Board of Governors

Sources: FLSenate.gov, FLBOG.edu, FAU.edu/BOT

Anthony Barbar courtesy of FAU Media Relations.


This article is part of an investigative series about FAU’s Board of Trustees members. To read the other articles in the series, visit upressonline.com/BOT.