Florida once had a howling wolfpack of higher education reporters competing for scoops about small-time shenanigans. These days, the education beat is pretty much on life support. And in the absence of swift and sure journalism justice, the shenanigans are morphing into national scandals.
Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was keepin’ ‘em honest at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Steam poured out of the silver haired anchor’s nostrils as he channeled the righteous indignation of millions regarding FAU’s James Tracy, a tenured professor of media history who thinks that maybe the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by “crisis actors” and maybe all those first graders aren’t really dead.
“I describe myself as a scholar and public intellectual,” Tracy told Sun-Sentinel reporter Mike Clary as the story was beginning to gather steam. Campus colleagues with higher standards of scholarship and lower quotients of narcissism describe him as Dick Tracy, the comic book detective who solves fictional crimes.
FAU President Mary Jane Saunders took to the CNN airwaves to assure Cooper’s global audience that Tracy “does not speak for the university.”
Maybe not, President Saunders, but his heartless, tone-deaf, self-aggrandizing pouring of salt into the gaping wounds of a Connecticut community still deeply in mourning has dealt yet another blow to the credibility of higher education in Florida.
The embarrassments have been piling up. Two top administrators at Edison State College allowed students to kiss off core classes required for legitimate degrees in three separate majors. Florida A & M is in danger of losing its accreditation. Politician and professor Mike Haridopolos’ $152,000 payday for a “book” resulted in a document as intellectually challenging as My Weekly Reader.
Add to those Florida State University’s selling its soul to the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation for $1.5 million to finance a “faculty” position. Of course, the right-wing foundation would name the teacher. And the Koch pledge is so paltry it would barely cover the cost of golden parachutes for any failed or disgraced FSU administrators.
James “Dick” Tracy is not the only accident looking for a place to happen in Florida higher education, and he did not grant himself tenure, either. Florida’s students and taxpayers deserve better than what they’re getting from a system increasingly run by people with PhDs from the University of Educated Fools.
Florence Snyder is a Tallahassee-based corporate lawyer who has spent most of her career in and around newspapers.