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.



Public distrust

A special investigation into FAU’s Board of Trustees


Like this spring, April 2011 at FAU buzzed with talk of another eight-figure budget cut and rumors of another 15 percent tuition hike.

It was one night that April that I lay awake at 3 a.m. I was having trouble sleeping. Tired of tossing and turning, I opened my laptop and typed 13 names into a public database of federal court documents.

I discovered that a few of FAU’s trustees had filed for bankruptcy or been sued in federal court (see Who’s in charge here? article).

The Board of Trustees, mind you, essentially runs the university. Its 13 members, aka “trustees,” outrank everyone at FAU — even the president.

That means FAU’s multimillion-dollar decisions are being made in part by people who have struggled to manage their own money. I wanted to know what else they were keeping on the down-low, so I background-checked them.

FAU Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees with President Mary Jane Saunders (center). Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations.

I searched more databases for public documents. I asked the state government for the trustees’ applications (see The trusty bunch article). I looked up the laws that govern the trustees and the media’s coverage of them. I read what FAU says about them and what the trustees say about themselves. I interviewed the trustees who would talk to me.

I found so many bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, liens and lawsuits in our trustees’ pasts that I needed another researcher to get through it all — and an entire issue of the newspaper to cover it all.

The public deserves to know who these people really are.

FAU is a public school that receives millions in state money each year. FAU’s trustees are public officers who “hold their positions for the benefit of the public,” says Florida’s Code of Ethics. They sit on the board because state officials like the governor handpicked them and the Florida Senate approved them (see Here’s how it works article and The appearance of impropriety article).

By definition, a trustee is someone to whom something is entrusted. The 13 trustees detailed in this investigation have been entrusted with the future of Florida Atlantic University.

— Karla Bowsher, special issue director

P.S. To view the print version of this special issue, visit Issuu.com/UPress.

Table of contents

About the special issue reporters

Karla BowsherKarla Bowsher is a Spanish studies major wrapping up her senior year. She is a former editor-in-chief of the University Press and works part-time as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald and the Broward Bulldog, a nonprofit watchdog news service. Karla is registered as an independent voter.


James ShackelfordJames Shackelford is an MBA student who earned his bachelor’s in accounting from FAU. He is a former managing editor of the University Press and previously worked in Student Government’s Boca Raton House of Representatives for more than two and a half years. James is a registered Republican.

Full disclosure: James was a volunteer for the 2010 congressional campaign of now-Rep. Allen West, the spouse of FAU Trustee Angela Graham-West. In 2010, James also received a $500 scholarship from the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches, which Graham-West has belonged to since 2006.

Karla Bowsher photo by Charles Pratt.
James Shackelford photo by Christine Capozziello.