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.


Commentary: FAU officials endorse fraud and million-dollar debt, state officials silent


Karla Bowsher

The face of FAU is hiding from the press. A university spokesman is praising FAU officials who lied on state documents. And state education officials are mum.

It all started last month, when we published a package called Public distrust: a special investigation into FAU’s Board of Trustees. (They’re the 13 people who make FAU’s biggest decisions, from hiking tuition to creating the new medical school.)

We discovered that half the board’s members were hiding federal lawsuits, bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, or debt-related court orders in their pasts. Two of them lied about their legal and financial problems on the applications they submitted to the state of Florida when they applied to join FAU’s Board of Trustees — which breaks FAU’s own rules for students (Regulation 4.007[5][g]) and employees (Regulation 5.012[4][h]). Of course, several trustees also appear to have bought their way onto the board by donating to key politicians. (See “In bed together” sidebar below.)

After Public distrust was published, I spent a week and a half trying to find out what FAU had to say for itself and what state education officials planned to do about it. FAU stood by its Board of Trustees, aka the BOT, and the Capitol gave me the runaround.

FAU officials endorse fraud and million-dollar debt

Mary Jane Saunders
Silent Saunders

I requested interviews with six key Owls:

  • Mary Jane Saunders, FAU’s president
  • Robert “Bob” Stilley, chair of the Board of Trustees
  • William McDaniel, Faculty Senate president and the only faculty representative on the board
  • Robert Huffman, incoming student body president and the only student representative on the board
  • Chris Robé, president of FAU’s faculty union chapter
  • Ayden Maher, outgoing student body president and a former trustee

Only Robé would speak with me. Everyone else dodged my emails and voicemails for a week and a half — even President Saunders, who had never before ignored an interview request from our student newspaper.

So all I got from those six sources were two indirect statements — both supporting the BOT…

William McDaniel
Silent McDaniel

1) McDaniel made a two-sentence comment at the May 24 BOT meeting: “Some of you came under criticism lately in the small press,” he said of our investigation but went on to thank his fellow trustees for their service on the board.

Does that mean McDaniel — a finance professor — forgives them their legal and financial sins because they volunteer? Who knows. McDaniel was apparently too afraid of the small press to call or email me back.

2) Stilley, the BOT spokesman, only sent me an evasive statement via FAU’s press secretary:

“I have complete confidence in the processes that the Florida Board of Governors, the Office of the Governor, and the Florida Senate use when selecting and confirming appointments to the state universities’ boards of trustees. It has been an honor to work with the outstanding men and women who comprise the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees. These volunteers spend countless hours on behalf of the University for no reward other than helping FAU and its students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities. FAU’s spectacular transformation over the past decade is directly attributable to the skills, insight, experience, and effort that the Trustees have brought to bear in leading the University. I am proud to call them my friends and colleagues.”

Robert Stilley

Does that mean FAU’s all-Republican trustees are legit simply because Republican Robert Stilley says so? And Florida’s Republican-dominated Board of Governors, Office of the Governor, and Senate are legit simply because Robert Stilley says so? Only Spokesman Stilley knows – and he’s not speaking

State officials silent

FAU’s most troubling trustees by far are Thomas Workman Jr., Anthony Barbar, and Paul Tanner — all alumni. (Read all about their transgressions in my Who’s in charge here? article.)

They got on the BOT because the Board of Governors (which oversees Florida’s public universities) selected them and the Senate approved of them. So I requested interviews with three key officials:

  • Frank Brogan, chancellor of Florida’s State University System (which means he oversees the Board of Governors)
  • Dean Colson, chair of the Board of Governors
  • Lyndsey Cruley, a press secretary for the Senate president

All three ignored my repeated calls and emails requesting interviews. They couldn’t even give me the decency of a “no comment”…

Frank Brogan
Silent Brogan

1) Frank Brogan is the former president of FAU and an FAU alum. So FAU’s student newspaper should have no problem getting five minutes of his time, right? Not if his press secretary has anything to do with it.

I made about half a dozen calls and wrote half a dozen emails over the course of a week and a half in an attempt to schedule an interview with Chancellor Brogan. Each of the three different assistants who answered told me that press secretary Kelly Layman is the sole human capable of scheduling his interviews. Of course, Layman was on vacation, in meetings, or “working off-site” every time I called.

The assistants suggested I email her, but Layman ignored repeated emails for a week and a half. When I finally got an answer from her, it was 42 minutes before my deadline — and she was only writing to further stonewall me:

“I still feel it is essential to talk through some of the issues at hand before any further interviews/communications occur with the my [sic] Board staff colleagues, the Chancellor, or the Board Chair.”

If you’re wondering what “the issues at hand” are, join the club. Layman refused to explain.

Dean Colson
Silent Colson

But wait, it gets better: Public records show that Brogan’s press secretary gets paid 120,000 taxpayer dollars a year to dodge the press.

2) Dean Colson’s secretary told me he was out of town. When he got back, she told me Colson didn’t have five minutes in his schedule to talk to me. In other words, someone who chose to serve on Florida’s highest-ranking higher education board doesn’t have five minutes for a student reporter.

3) Lyndsey Cruley dodged me altogether, never taking my calls, returning my calls, or responding to my emails. The first time I called her, the guy who answered said she was available. But after I identified myself, he said she had just stepped out.

When I called Cruley again on Friday at 11:04 a.m., I got her office’s general voicemail message — which said the office was closed and to call back during business hours: “8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.” Huh.

‘The travesty’

After all that, I must agree with professor Chris Robé, president of the FAU chapter of United Faculty of Florida.

He wasn’t surprised by the silence or cronyism. “You’re not going to get much from the administration on this,” he said. “Rick Scott appointed three of these trustees and they have a direct line to them.”

He wasn’t up in arms about the double standard that is allowing Trustees Thomas Workman Jr. and Anthony Barbar to get away with fraudulent behavior that FAU employees could be punished for. “To an extent, we’re well aware of double standards,” Robé said.

He wasn’t even that concerned with the trustees’ bankruptcies, foreclosures, and other four- to eight-figure financial transgressions. “To me, it is a bigger issue,” he said.

Robé is pissed about what the silence, cronyism, double standards, and financial transgressions have done to Florida’s higher education system.

“I don’t hear much about serving the public at the [Board of Trustees] meetings I go to,” he said. Robé thinks the trustees see students as money and faculty as money generators.

“The majority of the board are venture capitalists or have no connection to universities at all. What the hell?” he said. “This is about them having no knowledge of the public good.”

Besides professor McDaniel, only three of FAU’s 13 trustees have a degree or work experience in education.

“What’s lost is the mission of the public university,” Robé said. “That’s the travesty.”

In bed together

All 13 members of FAU’s Board of Trustees are Republicans. A few appear to have bought their way onto the board by donating to the governors who selected them for the board, or by donating to the politicians they used as references when they applied to join the board.

But the cronyism doesn’t stop there.

A few trustees have donated to Chancellor Frank Brogan, who oversees the Board of Governors (which also gets to appoint people to university boards of trustees). A few have donated to key senators, including members of the Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections — which screens people appointed to university boards of trustees.

No wonder FAU’s Board of Trustees and state education officials are protecting one another with silence.

  • Trustee Paul Tanner donated $500 to Chancellor Frank Brogan (R-FL) in 2002, when he was running for re-election as lieutenant governor.
  • Trustee Jeffrey Feingold donated to the chancellor three times in 1998 and 2002 for a total of $1,500.
  • Trustee Sherry Plymale donated $500 to the chancellor in 1998.
  • Trustee Anthony Barbar’s real estate company Barbar & Associates, LLC, donated $500 to Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-FL) in 2011.
  • Feingold’s dental insurance company Managed Care of North America Inc. donated $500 to the Senate president in 2009.
  • Feingold donated $500 to the Senate president in 2008.
  • Feingold donated $500 to Senator Steve Oelrich (R-FL), the chair of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, in 2009.
  • Feingold’s company donated $500 to Senator Oelrich in 2009.
  • Feingold’s company donated $500 to Senator Thad Altman (R-FL), a member of the Higher Education Committee, in 2009.
  • Feingold’s company donated to Senator John Thrasher (R-FL), a member of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections, in 2010.
  • Feingold’s company donated $500 to Senator David Simmons (R-FL), a member of the Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections, in 2009.
  • Feingold’s company donated $500 to Senator Don Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections, in 2009.

In addition to the politicians they’ve helped to finance, most of FAU’s trustees have their own political connections to Tallahassee.

  • Trustee Jeffrey Feingold has chaired the Republican Party of Florida’s Jewish Leadership Council since 2007.
  • Trustee Angela Graham-West is married to Congressman Allen West (R-FL).
  • Trustee Robert Stilley is a former member of the Republican Party of Florida’s State Executive Committee.
  • Stilley is a past president of the Martin County Republican Party’s Council of 100.
  • Trustee Sherry Plymale worked as chief-of-staff of Florida’s Department of Education from 1994 to 1998, when now-Chancellor Frank Brogan was the education commissioner.
  • Plymale worked as a consultant for the Executive Office of the Governor in 2001, when Jeb Bush (R-FL) was governor and Brogan was lieutenant governor.
  • Plymale represented Florida in the 1992 Electoral College. She cast her vote for Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush., the father of Jeb Bush.
  • Trustee Robert Rubin was a delegate to the Florida State Republican Convention in 1987.
  • Trustee Paul Tanner worked as an aide to then-Senator Van Poole (R-FL) from 1979 to 1982.

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics (aka OpenSecrets.org), National Institute on Money in State Politics (aka FollowTheMoney.org), trustee applications and questionnaires, prior interviews with trustees, The New York Times, FAU.edu, Archives.gov, RPOF.org

James Shackelford contributed to the reporting in this article.

Karla Bowsher photo by Charles Pratt.
Original Saunders photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations.
Dean Colson photo via FLBOG.edu.
Frank Brogan photo via FLBOG.edu.
Robert Stilley photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations.

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  • M

    MoJun 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Karla, a friend of mine wants to pass on some interesting information about one of the higher-ups. Where can she send that to you…and if you are not writing anymore, can you pass it on to someone who will follow up? Thanks.

    • K

      KarlaJun 20, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Hi Mo:

      I’m sorry I just saw your comment. You can contact me at kabowsher at gmail dot com, which is my personal account.

      You can also call the UP newsroom (561 297 2960) and ask for the new editor-in-chief, Ryan Cortes. They can give you his contact info or give you my number.


  • S

    stephen voss(II)Jun 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    My question for Karla

    Does their material false statements on their BOT applications constitute a criminal act???

    Florida Statute
    837.06 False official statements.–Whoever knowingly makes a false statement in writing with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his or her official duty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

    • K

      KarlaJun 14, 2012 at 2:01 am


      I agree that Barbar and Workman’s application lies are the most black-and-white transgression. As I reported, FAU’s own regulations — which must all be approved by the BOT, ironically — state that such actions are grounds for disciplinary action, yet FAU’s leaders are get a pass? What the heck kind of message is FAU trying to send?

      The application lies were also the focus of my would-have-been follow-up interviews. I asked people like Chair Stilley and President Saunders directly what they had to say about the double standard they’ve created. I’m sure that’s part of why they ignored my interview requests: They only have two options: Ignore the application lies or take action against two alumni-trustees and prominent, powerful local community members (at least one of whom donates four or five figures to FAU every year).

      As for the statute you site, you make a damn good point that I have no doubt the UP will bear in mind as they follow this story. My tenure at the UP is wrapping up, but I know the current staff won’t settle for silence on this topic.


  • S

    stephen voss(II)Jun 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I think you ought to focus on the false statements in their BOT applications that may rise to a criminal act.

    837.06 False official statements.–Whoever knowingly makes a false statement in writing with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his or her official duty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

  • S

    stephen voss(II)Jun 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Karla while I think a lot of what you covered may have been politics as usual, the people who made false statements in their BOT applications may have committed a criminal act.

    837.06 False official statements.–Whoever knowingly makes a false statement in writing with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his or her official duty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

  • S

    Scott DartJun 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    You keep digging. Remember “follow the money” and remember the leadership committee’s and Committee’s of Continuous Existence of elected Florida Rep’s and Senator’s. Who are they paying for work, and who the Board Members/University are doing business with.You are doing great work, remember the first rule of public affairs is to issue non-denial denial’s and ignore attempts by the media to respond to sticky situations. If you can afford it, do some office visits with a camera!

    By the way, I think your writing is clear, consice and easy to read.


    • K

      KarlaJun 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks, Scott. I appreciate the constructive feedback.

  • T

    TMZ.com? LOL!!Jun 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    TMZ.com??? That is giving Karla an undeserved promotion! This poor excuse for a campus newspaper needs to be shut down. I agree with the Dobeylove guy post above. No president or group of leaders is perfect but this is just someone begging for attention—-that is sad. I feel sorry for her. She is definitely not anything close to a journalist. Her smirks while making her “phone calls for interviews” tell it all! Can you imagine any serious writer doing such a stupid thing? Karla, all it looked like is that no one gave you the time of day because of your horrible attitude! Can you blame them? All you’ve done Karla is show I would love to see the university board members serve her butt with some litigation!

    • K

      KarlaJun 7, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Hi conveniently anonymous commenter:

      So what exactly would you love to see them sue me for?

      Reporting facts? Having an opinion? Wanting a better higher education system?


  • H

    Huh?Jun 7, 2012 at 10:53 am

    My, how the UP has fallen.

    I agree with the previous commenter about members buying their way into the BOT. Looks like Ms. Bowsher is looking for incriminating evidence that isn’t really incriminating at all in regards to donations.

    • K

      KarlaJun 7, 2012 at 9:11 pm

      Hi anonymous commenter:

      Please note that “incriminating” is your word. Donating to a politician is hardly incriminating — but getting a state-official position from a politician you donated to is a conflict of interest.

      Besides, I find it interesting that the critics hang up on the donations. Say we take them out of the picture. You’re OK with these guys running FAU when they’ve run their own businesses into the ground and got onto the board by lying about legal matters?


      • F

        Following up...Jun 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm

        The point is that $500 isn’t that great of a donation in the first place. You make it seem like they donated millions of dollars to buy their way onto the Board…what about other people who donated money? Why weren’t they given positions if it was so easy to buy their way onto the Board in the first place?

        • K

          KarlaJun 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm

          Hi still-anonymous commenter:

          Your comment is a statement of opinion, and you’re entitled to it. And one can’t argue with an opinion, save by sharing one’s own opinion.

          In my opinion, you’re reading into my opinion too much. You give me too much credit. I never said it was easy to buy one’s way onto the board. I simply pointed out that (1) several people on the board donated to individuals who are key to the appointment process and (2) that creates the *appearance* of them buying their way in.

          But again, you’re hanging up on the donations, which are really the least of the BOT’s problems, in my opinion. Are you telling me you’d be OK with them lying their way in as long as they didn’t buy their way in?


          • C

            ConnectionsJun 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

            Karla, the point is that you’re making connections wherever you can. And some of them are a bit far-fetched. I understand that the donation was a conflict of interest, but with having so many people make donations to politicians directly involved with the BoT member appointments, that part of your argument becomes irrelevant. And let’s say you do take out their donations. I think you’re forgetting that they really do appear to care about your school. And with so many people there, it’s hard to make the same mistakes an individual would. These people are old enough to learn from their mistakes in the past. This story is big, but not so big that it’s ok to have turned it into the circus you did.

  • D

    DobeyloveJun 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

    You will have a promising career with TMZ.com. Your writing and comments are so unprofessional and you lack life experiences to understand fully what you are supposedly “reporting.” I find it sad.

    Of course I am no fan of this administration but that doesn’t mean you are doing the right thing or anything of quality.

    • K

      KarlaJun 7, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Hi anonymous commenter:

      That sounds lofty and all, but can you back it with anything?

      What exactly about my writing or comments is unprofessional? This is an opinion column written by the SPJ’s 2010 Mark of Excellence nation prize winner for the column-writing category. I beat out students from schools like UF and Harvard for that award.

      And do tell what you know of my life experiences. You must be one heck of a slick stalker to know enough about my life experiences to deem them sufficient or insufficient for much of anything. I find that sad.


      • L

        lolJun 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

        You mad?

        • K

          KarlaJun 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm

          You changing the subject?

          • W

            Word to the unwiseJun 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm

            Karla, your personality is unbecoming and snooty in these comments. You should stop being so butthurt when someone disagrees with you. HTH.

          • F

            follow upJun 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm

            I wasn’t the OP of that comment, either.

  • J

    JonJun 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    You should into the mattera
    Scandal and donating money to FAU

  • R

    readerJun 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Karla, what you fail to realize is that donations of $500 are hardly large contributions to politicians and are in no way methods of “buying” into the BoT. While this is, according to the Florida Division of Elections, the maximum amount an individual can make, I hardly believe that these are significant enough to constitute “buying into the Board of Trustees”.

  • P

    PhilJun 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Great job uncovering the filth. Now that the story is out, you will be heard. I have a feeling FoxNews and MSNBC would both like a link a to this article. Its such a pity that those we have entrusted with ensuring the further education of our sons and daughters, take us for fools to think we will let something like this stand. Once again excellent job, for this is true journalism.

    • K

      KarlaJun 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks, Phil!

  • R

    Randy EllisJun 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    This is nothing short of appalling.