New FAU President Dr. John Kelly Talks About Rick Scott, Faculty Pay and Step-on-Jesus Incident

Categories: Broward News


FAU's new president, Dr. John Kelly, freshly re-located to the school's Boca Raton campus and two weeks into the job, invited us in last Tuesday for a 15-minute sitdown. Our time with the well-spoken and gracious South Carolina native stretched into half an hour.

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We had hoped to focus on two things: the unresolved dispute around Dr. Deandre Poole (the deceptively labeled "Stomp on Jesus" affair) and faculty discontent over salary and hiring practices. Dr. Kelly begged off detailed discussion of either, saying he had not yet had time to familiarize himself with those matters. We did touch on them both in general terms. Here's how it went:

New Times: I don't know if you've seen the Faculty Senate's report on the Dr. Poole affair.

John Kelly: "I'm not familiar with all the details. I do know there was an incident that was not received well.

That's an understatement...There was immense political pressure and the professor's claims that he was physically threatened by a student were never fully investigated. The school caved.

JK: Let me read through [the report] and try to understand better.

Can you say something about your commitment to academic freedom when dealing with controversial subjects?

JK: Sure. We have freedom of speech and we have academic freedom and those are two very important rights. If we're going to exercise those, you hope that you're using colleagues and friends, bouncing ideas off of each other, trying to understand the best way to present something. I know I learn a lot that way, bouncing ideas off someone and they say "Oh, I wouldn't say it that way. Maybe you can say it differently."...I hope we're creating a culture where we're nurturing each other. I hope we're focussed on the future, not the past. Obviously, we've got to take care of things if they're not being done properly. We need to keep moving forward and not remind ourselves every day about past problems.

But past is prelude. It appears to me the school has obligations to faculty to assure their physical safety. It's quite clear this matter was not fully investigated, because of political pressure. Do you feel the Board of Trustees is ready to stand up to the Governor and Senators, as was the case with Dr. Poole?

JK: Unfortunately I don't have a clue how to answer that. I haven't seen the Board in that situation. I don't really know if they stood up or didn't stand up or how they handled that specifically. But I can tell you this: I'm very impressed with the Board we have. They seem very focused on the university's success and moving it forward. We haven't spoken about this specific issue you've brought up. But in general the Board is extremely focused on the university becoming a successful national university.

Faculty appear to be not all that happy with their pay. The faculty union has commissioned a study [we give him a copy] that supports their claims resources are not being allocated to the best advantage of academics.

Media Relations: Since Dr. Kelly would need time to digest this material can we address this in a more general way?

Sure. What's your thinking about how to allocate budget between administrative functions and faculty salaries?

JK: You clearly want faculty compensated at a rate that is fair -- fair market. Administrative pay has always been in a different bracket. You have to benchmark against cohorts. If you're hiring a general counsel you look at what other general counsel are paid. If you're hiring a vice president of student affairs you look at that going rate. A senior medical scientist, the pay is going to be quite different from a beginning horticulture professor, which is what I was at one time. I think you have to understand the market. What we used to do [at Clemson, where Dr. Kelly was previously] was define a peer group -- similar type of university, similar portfolio of course work -- and there's a study published out of Oklahoma that gives you a report on almost every university in the country, and you can benchmark on exactly where you stand. At Clemson we benchmarked and found our mean was below the national mean. And we made a decision to correct pay because of this. It was all merit-based, though. We corrected to the mean, but it doesn't mean everyone got the same raise. So it may have been that only half the people got a raise -- some were above the mean and some below.

The mean was compared to what, the whole national pool?

JK: It was done relative to a peer group. We were engineering-oriented. We had benchmarks of where our faculty stood next to national faculty. That doesn't mean everybody in the university is equal. You have high performers and lower performers. Higher performers, if you want to keep them you have to compensate them.

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