The Catanese Years (1990-2002)

With the arrival of Dr. Anthony J. Catanese in January 1990, Florida Atlantic University entered a period of rapid growth and development on all fronts. During his presidency the student body more than doubled, four new campuses were built, three dozen new degree programs were introduced and the Owls – including a football team that made its debut in 2001 – began competing in Division I of the NCAA. By the middle of Dr. Catanese’s 12-year term, FAU had become known as the fastest growing university in America, and that was probably literally true.

Formerly dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Florida, Dr. Catanese became president of FAU just as higher education in Florida and around the United States began to get caught in the crossfire of a recessionary economy and changing national priorities. The central challenge he and other educators across America faced was to do more with less: the demand for higher education was soaring as traditional public funding sources were contracting. Despite these challenges, Dr. Catanese embraced an ambitious vision for FAU, driven by his belief that universities had to “run smarter” by adopting some of the principles of private enterprise, including putting productivity standards in place, containing expenses and seeking resource-leveraging partnerships. He succeeded perhaps beyond even his own wildest dreams, presiding over a half-billion-dollar construction program on seven campuses that created more than one million square feet of new and renovated classroom, laboratory and office space.

As the university’s student body passed the 23,000 mark, its faculty expanded to include 895 full-time, tenure-track teachers and researchers, and its degree offerings increased to 137, FAU built new campuses in Davie, Dania Beach, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie. The Downtown Fort Lauderdale campus was greatly enhanced by the addition of the Florida Atlantic University/Broward Community College Higher Education Complex, a 12-story high-tech facility.

FAU’s sponsored research activity increased from $10 million to $37 million annually, and the 52-acre Florida Atlantic Research and Development Park took shape on the Boca Raton campus.

Dr. Catanese led the first capital campaign in the university’s history, and this, too, was highly successful, increasing the assets of the FAU Foundation from $18 million to $150 million.

Especially notable accomplishments of the Catanese years include creation of FAU’s medical education program, in partnership with the University of Miami; introduction of a five-year professional degree program in architecture, based at the Downtown Fort Lauderdale campus; and establishment of the four-year, residential Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College on the university’s John D. MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

When Dr. Catanese left FAU in 2002 to become president of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, the student body had grown to 23,836 and the university had 78,396 alumni. Through aggressive recruitment of minorities, FAU's student body had become the most diverse in Florida's State University System, with African Americans making up 16 percent and Hispanics 13 percent of the total number of students in attendance.