For months, those seeking a chancellor to lead Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities clamped a lid of secrecy on their search, defending that new approach as necessary to attract the best candidates.
But in the end, the Ohio native whom they deemed most qualified -- Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida -- said he would have pursued the $327,500-a-year job even if it meant the public, including his current employer, would learn he was weighing it.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday after the State System of Higher Education's board of governors awarded him the job effective Oct. 1, the career educator and former Florida lieutenant governor under Jeb Bush said he alerted Florida system leaders early on that he was under consideration.
"I knew going in that this was going to be a confidential search, but I also knew throughout the process there was the possibility it could be public, not by design," said Mr. Brogan, 59. "I was actually ready."
Mr. Brogan, Florida chancellor since 2009, said he was honored to be chosen over two other unnamed finalists but had mixed emotions about leaving what he called a wonderful system. Its 12 institutions include the University of Florida, Florida State University and Florida Atlantic University, a Boca Raton institution where he was president from 2003 to 2009.
The Florida system enrolls 335,000 students, nearly three times the 115,000 students who attend Pennsylvania's 14 system schools, including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania. He is leaving a system with steadily rising enrollment for one that also saw sizable gains, but has 5,000 fewer students than a few years ago.
Wednesday's unanimous vote by 15 of the State System's 20-person board (two student members did not participate and three seats are vacant) took place via conference call from the system's Harrisburg headquarters.
Mr. Brogan's selection drew immediate praise from that panel, from the Legislature and governor and from others including the faculty union leadership. They said his higher education management background and experience in Florida state government were both assets.
Board chairman Guido M. Pichini, who led the search committee, said in a statement the committee was "humbled" by the level of interest in the chancellor's job.
"We received several hundred inquiries from individuals throughout the United States and even some from outside the country," he said. "It demonstrates the high regard with which our system is held."
Joseph McGinn, a board member and the Delaware County sheriff, was also pleased. "I think it was a good find for our system," he said of Mr. Brogan.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents 6,000 professors and coaches, also reacted favorably. A statement from its president, Steve Hicks, said the State System needs a "strong, credible leader" to navigate through its problems.
"The chancellor is the face of public higher education in the Commonwealth, and we are pleased that the board has selected someone with institutional knowledge of higher education," Mr. Hicks said.
Traditionally, the State System identifies finalists in searches and this time faced criticism from some, including state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, for the secrecy. But the State System said other public university systems increasingly keep searches confidential.
Mr. Brogan, originally from Cincinnati, was the first member of his family to attend college. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic University.
His years in education started in 1978 as a teacher at Port Salerno Elementary School in Martin County, Fla., State System officials said. He held other posts in the Martin County school system, including superintendent for six years. In 1995, he became Florida's commissioner of education.
State System officials said as Florida's chancellor, Mr. Brogan improved relations with the state Legislature, helping to restore $300 million in previous funding cuts and to receive $400 million in new operating and capital funds.
While Florida Atlantic's president, he worked to bolster academic standards and helped raise $120 million in private and matching funds for his school.
Mr. Brogan said the move to Pennsylvania, while a smaller system, made personal and professional sense for him, his wife and 8-year-old son. He has a year left on his five-year Florida contract but said under a Florida retirement program he would soon have to leave his $357,000-a-year post.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG. First Published August 7, 2013 10:30 AM