The Post-Catanese Wilderness

One of the nation's fastest-growing universities may be headed for hard times... or perhaps they're already here

Hoffman wishes that faculty had more time for the straightforward business of teaching and admits that there is not enough enthusiasm and sharing of ideas. He attributes the strangely empty atmosphere on campus in the middle of the day in part to the fact that FAU is largely a commuter school. "In 1968, I saw more students on campus than I do now." He concedes that "willy-nilly development will not get better students." (A recent survey of seniors showed that only one in five had a "sense of belonging" to the university community.)

Hoffman adds: "Catanese gave us more than 12 years, when he said he would give us 10. You can't demand more than that from anybody. He's now 59. If he stayed another two or three years, it would greatly lessen his ability to move on."

Collegewide cutbacks also mean that the university newspaper, University Press, must make do with an annual $120,000 that comes from the student government budget. Kelly Tyko, executive editor, says the paper is printed free by the Boca Raton News, "and we are the only agency that doesn't ask for more." Staff on the paper complain that finding news at all amid student apathy and nonparticipation is a constant challenge, although in September last year, Tyko was able to mine a lode of student discontent with a university ruling that made it compulsory for campus residents to pay for meal plans whether they used them or not. It gave Tyko her headline of the year: "MONEY HUNGRY: Breaking bread at FAU leaves some students bone dry." Whatever the paper's efforts, a campus survey last year put student satisfaction with the campus media at 29 percent.

On the other hand, apathy helped to propel Pablo Paez to the post of president of the student body in elections held three week ago. Student government at FAU controls an annual budget of $5.5 million; despite this, plus the perks, Paez was the only candidate. "I'm not going to speculate," Paez responds to questions about his solo candidacy or why voter turnout surged from 3 to 5 percent in past years to nearly 10 percent this time. (There were tales of votes being bought with slices of pizza.)

Student apathy at FAU is one thing. Student awareness, especially after Catanese's resignation reverberated on the South Florida media scale, tellingly remains another.

On convocation morning, among 40 students interviewed, only five knew Catanese's name, and four were aware that he had resigned. This left little room for opinions. However, two felt that he was a good president, while two challenged his financial motives for leaving; one of the latter commented: "As soon as he can get some more money, he's gone. So much for his commitment." Catanese's annual Florida Institute of Technology salary is unknown, but the last presidential salary disclosed there was $280,000, in contrast to Catanese's $190,000 at FAU.

Regardless of whether they knew about Catanese, seven students had opinions on the $2 million house that the university recently built for his use from private donations. Their comments were peppered with words like "ridiculous," "monster," "huge," and "Arabian mosque."

The convocation ceremony ended with a flourish of the Wind Ensemble. Then the audience, including a handful of students, headed for the tables of food. Outside, Manny Newsome, vice president of student affairs, concluded: 'I think Catanese was a good president. I've been 14 years in student affairs. I've seen students come and go, come and go. Have a nice day."

As FAU heads into its post-Catanese wilderness, much more seems at stake than finding a replacement who can similarly strong-arm millions for expansion and maintain the compliance of the local planning authorities. FAU must somehow save the quality and purpose of its education, as much from its own expansionary haste as from the bulldozers.

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