ERAU: If you’re not first, you’re last

Now that you and I (the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County) are Patrons of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, I keep waiting on my invitation to our induction into the prestigious Jack L. Hunt Society in grateful recognition of our generous endowment of $1.5 million in public funds.

Maybe we can even get our name on something?  Hell, everyone else does.

“Eagles Nest: The Rubes of Volusia County Student Restroom Complex”

Hey.  Fair is fair – and shitting in their own nest seems to be the university administrations recent stock in trade.

As an honored ERAU benefactor, I’m paying close attention to our endowment.

I’m weird that way – when someone takes my money because they know what’s best for me, I tend to keep an eye on them – you know:  Trust, but verify.

So far, I’m not happy.

At a gala held earlier this month at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin awarded a $5 million-dollar contract to Florida A&M University.

Under the terms of the agreement, FAMU students and faculty members will work closely with Lockheed Martin engineers to develop components and systems for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle designed for long-term human deep space exploration.

Unfortunately, as NASA reaches for the asteroids, Mars and beyond – ERAU remains grounded.

In an excellent article by the Orlando Sentinel’s Gabrielle Russon, FAMU engineering professor Okenwa Okoli said, “We hope to assist with developing future materials and structures, as well as optimizing manufacturing procedures for the Orion program, especially those that will serve a dual purpose here on Earth.”

It’s called being on the cutting edge of developing the most technologically advanced aircraft and space vehicles ever envisioned.

In addition, this partnership assists FAMU in developing graduates with skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines that will form the workforce necessary to take the United States back to space.

In my view, FAMU’s win is a tough loss for our own Harvard of the Sky.

In addition, for over a decade, NASA’s Ames Research Center has cultivated strategic partnerships with academic, non-profit, and aerospace industry leaders to work cooperatively on innovative projects in support of NASA’s future space exploration goals.

Current academic partnerships include, Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley/Santa Clara University, Singularity University and Taksha University.

ERAU?  Not so much.

However, in August, Embry-Riddle announced something called it’s “Nexus Partners” in the university’s new John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex.

Boeing?  Lockheed Martin?  General Electric?  Harris Corporation?  Raytheon?

No.

While the global aerospace industry is busy collaborating with other schools, Embry-Riddle’s new partners include a virtual “who’s who” of local political insiders and perennial power brokers:

International Speedway Corporation, Cobb Cole, FireSpring Fund, James Moore & Company, Vann Data Services, DuvaSawko and venVelo.

I guess if NASA ever needs a good real estate attorney – or help sending out a doctor’s bill – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the place to be. . .

While ERAU publicly wallows in administrative dysfunction, aerospace and defense industry leaders are taking note and partnering with other colleges and universities around the world to develop the next generation of engineers, researchers and tech workers.

ERAU students should take note: These important partnerships provide your future competitors with the opportunity to work collaboratively with leaders in critical industries, and acquire the all-important “real world” experience that will make a difference on their résumé.

Unfortunately, for the high-flying Eagles of ERAU, the outlook is grim.

For months, the university has been dogged by a cockamamie search for a new president – along with cries for help from disenfranchised students, alumni and faculty members as they peel the onion of mismanagement and dubious spending by the university’s board of trustees.

For instance, student government representatives going back 15-years have issued an open letter denouncing the actions of the board of trustees – especially the Machiavellian mucking about of Chairman Mori Hosseini – while expressing their collective concern for the future of ERAU.

Then, the faculty senate issued a vote of no confidence against the board – an unprecedented censure representing the most powerful statement of disapproval available to the long-suffering professors and associates.

I’m just speculating here, but when you add to that allegations that Mr. Hosseini has done business with the very university he oversees – “business” which netted his Intervest Construction some $1.5 million dollars – you get the queasy feeling that the intrigues of the Big Man on Campus may not be as benevolent as he would like us to believe.

Given the fact that those who matter – the students, alumni and faculty – have tried in vain to pull back the very heavy curtain on Mori’s dictatorship, last month I called for an independent review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the independent agency that accredits ERAU.

Per SACS principles, colleges and universities that seek accreditation are required to make “reasonable and responsible decisions consistent with the spirit of integrity in all matters.”

I think an argument can be made that the ERAU leadership has failed to live up to those simple standards of fair dealing.

There is a reason these research contracts and partnerships are consistently being awarded to other schools – and it has nothing to do with the caliber of ERAU’s students, faculty or curriculum.

In my view, it is time for a fundamental change in the make-up and focus of ERAU’s board of trustees.  Clearly, the need for increased faculty/student oversight of the direction and stewardship of the university is critical.

And as us uneducated bumpkins say, “time’s a-wastin”

So long as the university remains deeply embroiled in these ugly controversies – and aggressively controlled by one man who casts a very large shadow – I fear these vital government and industry collaborations will continue to go elsewhere.

That is a dangerous proposition for a private school that prides itself as the leader in aviation and aerospace education in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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