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Florence Snyder: Hold the door on DSOs, Part 2; FAU says FU to ‘crown jewel’

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Countin’ down to sine die, the House and Senate education budget conferees have bumped the secretive university and state college “direct support organizations” up the chain of command for further grinding.

Soon, we’ll know how serious the House is about forcing the DSOs to operate in the sunshine.

DSO top brass are paid princely salaries with public funds. Yet, they operate with all the transparency of a Swiss bank. We hear about them only when they do something really stupid that offends someone who’s really rich.

That’s how the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) foundation got itself the unwelcome attention of its hometown newspapers and got some “earned media” at USA TODAY.

FAU was hauled into court by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, which “partnered” with FAU in 2007 and came to regret it when they came to believe that FAU is looking to move in and take over Harbor Branch’s $68 million endowment. That was not part of the deal, say Harbor Branch trustees.

 It will be for a circuit court in St. Lucie County to decide whether FAU — where UNBRIDLED AMBITION is, literally, uppercase and trademarked — has predatory intentions.

FAU’s in-house “former award-winning journalist” Lisa Metcalf, was dispatched to describe the lawsuit as “an unfortunate distraction that we hope to move past quickly,” adding that the folks who built what FAU President John Kelly refers to as the university’s “crown jewel” have “misinterpreted our commitment to our partnership and to our shared responsibility for efficient and proper stewardship of our resources.”

Patronizing millionaires with AV-rated lawyers is rarely a sound strategy, and the newspaper closest to Harbor Branch was appears underwhelmed, and possibly alarmed, by Kelly’s subsequent commentary on the controversy.

In a Feb. 23 guest column for TCPalm, Kelly wrote:

“The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation is a very important component of the university. It is a certified Direct Support Organization of Florida Atlantic University. These are a category of not-for-profit organizations created by the Florida Legislature that exist for one reason: to benefit the university with which they are affiliated.”

“To ensure DSO accountability and consistency with a university’s mission,” Kelly wrote, “the university boards of trustees oversee affiliated DSO boards and approve DSO budgets, and university presidents or their designee supervise DSO senior administrators … Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation became a DSO of FAU in 2008 as part of the $69 million transaction in which Harbor Branch became a part of FAU. Its sole and unique mission is to support the research, educational programs, infrastructure and overall mission of FAU and Harbor Branch.”

TC Palm speaks for the community that loved and supported Harbor Branch long before Kelly came to Boca Raton with a carpetbag full of grandiosity and UNBRIDLED AMBITION. Its editorial board wants to see this dispute resolved soon, and not in the courts.

Secrecy breeds shady practices. Accountability at the DSOs is long overdue, and would go a long way toward enhancing the credibility of Florida’s postsecondary schools.

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