Videos by Dr. Fischler

Dr. Fischler has several videos on Richard Peritz's channel

His archives have been donated to a virtual museum operated by the Fischler Graduate Student Association.

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History of Nova university by Dr. Fischler (2011 presentation)

Transcript of a talk given by Dr Fischler in 2011

I wrote three points:

how did it come to be

how is it moving?

where is it going?

BY Dr. Abraham Fischler.

I have to put distance education in a context.

It was done because economically we needed someway to move from where we started to where we had to go.

notice that I said HAD TO GO.  not because we wanted to go.  It was a necessity.

We started this university at the PHD level.  the thought was that we would bring in first class professors and they would be funded through the university and they would bring in the resources necessary to bring in 3 or 4 doctoral students in  and be supported on the research monies that they brought in from the government or other locations.

That was the start of this institution.  We were going to be the MIT of the south.  We started with 17 students in three fields:   oceanography, physics, science education, which was my own field.   It didn't take long before we realized  that that model was not going to work.   The reason it was not going to work was because we were late in the science since Sputnik had gone up and the money had been spent between 1957 and 1967.   here we were starting in 1967 and it also was difficult to bring research professor here since we were located in 232 East Las Olas Blvd and 336 where my office was.  There were no buildings out here [in Davie, Florida, west of Fort Lauderdale]

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there was no place for them to go even if they came.  So when i was asked to become the leader of the institution in 1969, i used 1969 (the year) as a way to go back to my colleagues in Harvard and Berkeley and other places where I knew people.  I couldn't get a physicist to come here.  i couldn't get a first-class research scientist to come here  … so I came back and said to the board, "we can't become the MIT of the south, so if you give me some opportunity, I will try to do what I can to help the university."

It happened that I was a science educator and the reason they asked me to come was that they needed someone who had an education background. I had graduated from CCNY in biochemistry and became a teacher through the MAT program in NYU.  

So it was natural for them to look for a science educator and although I was successful at Berkeley, they were shooting [golf?] in  _______  1965

and it made no difference whether I was there or not 

[I assume he means that he did not feel he was making a difference at Berkeley]

They were still going to shoot golf in 65, so this presented a challenge where I could make a difference.

With that background, in 1970, I had to do something to bring in revenue and get past SACS accreditation

southern association of colleges and schools  SACS

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It happened that in that summer of 1968 and 69 I had the opportunity to do something in Hartford Conn. because I was friendly with Medil Baer [???]  who was the superintendent of schools in Hartford.  Medil was also superintendent of schools in Lenox [Mass. about 130 miles west from Cambridge], when I went to Hartford.  I knew him from Berkeley because he was superintendent in Carmel [California, about 120 miles south Berkeley], and it so happened that he became superintendent at hartford. 

I was a consultant  I was able to bring my doctoral students up to Hartford to do research and become part of that activity, so I had a way of funding them.  So they could eat.   None of our doctoral students paid tuition.  they all had free tuition.  When you look at that environment, having taken over an institution in 1970 we had to do something that was unique.  In 1969 during the summer i had 16 principals from Hartford for a summer institute.  they actually became teachers that summer.  They taught students from hartford connecticut.  they taught two   different subjects:  one on behavioral research lab, self-paced, and the other was the Otto Carini kits

which enabled them to work in pairs so that principals taught in the morning, half-planned, half-taught … we videotaped them like we are now.

Rather than ask students to come physically here, we decided to bring the university to where they were.  we formed clusters.   We started with a cluster in California and three in florida.   Lou taught curriculum, I taught supervision.   The organizational structure of the distance education was that the same professor would teach that subject no matter where the cluster was.

so we had uniformity in terms of expectations.  We each picked two other professors to work with us and I took them on here in Miami and in Jacksonville and Lou took the two others and we switched.  that gave us six months, because each cluster lasted three months, it gave us 6 months to build the balance of the programs.  

and see what we wanted to do.

[transcriber's added comment:  building wings after jumping out of the plane].  

we brought in Bill Applebaum who was at Harvard Business school to head up the practicums   We had three people paid here and then we had adjunct faculty for all the rest of what we were doing. 

we didn't have to pay fringe benefits, we paid them when they left home on Friday night, they flew to the cluster and taught all day Saturday.  Some [professors] stayed over Sat. night and went home Sunday,    some didn't, some went home on Saturday night.

The telephone  and the jet was the technology being used.


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there were no computers at the time, at least not available, and we didn't have resources to buy them anyway.  that was a very important decision that SACS made.  Gordon Sweet, who was a director of the area for higher ed, gave us the opportunity to do that, with the understanding that they would come back every year for five years and they would visit the clusters.

i said fine and they did that.   Gordon Sweet with a team would visit the clusters every year and as we grew it became more difficult for them to visit the clusters every year so they divided it up as they wanted to.

it brought in tuition.   the principals could afford to pay tuition.  we had minimal expenses going out and we began to build the university with that model

Oceanography was very successful    Bill Richardson got money to do research, that was blossoming.   we built a facility at the port, at that point they were located in a houseboat on 15th street, we had a successful model in our initial design.

in physics, Ray Potenski [??] was not able to get funding he had some students who didn't' pay tuition, so finally in 1969 and 1970 we asked him to leave.  he had brought tons of materials from the ______ institute to do the physics  from University of Pennsylvania.  he had brought box cars but we had to ask him to leave.   After careful examination we saw that his program was not fundable.  without funding for that program we couldn't survive.  so we had to turn him loose.

we brought the germ-free laboratory with Joe Warren (???)  and that was started in Notre Dame.    They moved it out, we gave them room here, and that program was fundable.   Not because of the research they were doing…  but because the germ free mice were so valuable.  Every time they opened the autoclave with the law school on the first floor and the mouse lab on the third floor, all I did was get my phone ringing all the time.   because the odor would go down in stead of out.  The poor law students in the first year or two suffered with that twice during their law day.

but it worked.  FUnding for the germ free animals which they provided as a tool gave them the opportunity to do research here.  Now it is called the leo goodwill research institute  germ free institute and it's functioning  on Sunrise, even though we let it go for a couple of years.

so that background led to nova producing distance education.  it was very successful.  in three years we had 30 clusters in EDD, dr. John Sciliano (sp??)  said "why don't we do clusters for the community colleges?"  because junior colleges were turning into community colleges,  I said to John Gischuliano "it's yours.  write me a concept paper, tell me who you are going to work with, who you will get, etc. and I'll take it to SACS"

Gordon Sweet approved it and we had another program going, a little different design.  he decided he would have the same professor go back to the same professor three times.   under my design, each professor went once.  so they could handle more  clusters.  under John's design, the professors would take care of a cluster.  So we had a cadre of people from the Community college movement … all of these people were renowned professors.  in their own organizational structure.  that was important.  we couldn't be criticized by the accrediting agencies of not investing in first class scholars for the clusters.  the faculty was fine.  it was difficult for people to understand that all we were doing was bringing the university to the students instead of asking the students to give up  their jobs and come to us.  that's what we were doing.  we were able to demonstrate that the quality of the program was outstanding.  We could show that the participants could take their particular responsibilities and do the practicum in their facilities.  We didn't' have to have laboratories or set them out on internships, they were able to do the work in their particular environment.   

so when i went to a community college president … i could say "look if you put a cluster together of 25 people, potential change agents, principals, you have a cadre of people who have to change  who have to introduce change in your environment.  so if you want to see change, put together a group."  and they did that.  so it was easy to recruit for the community college program because it was internal in one environment.  in contrast to the principals  who represented areas,.. .to have our 25 or 30 in a cluster, 

so you can see that it was a necessity.  it was not because we were bright, we just developed a niche.  we had to to bring in a revenue stream.   that would begin to cover the expenses that we had as the institution grew.  that's what helped the institution to grow.

it was not easy.  change in education is a very slow process. it is slow because people who come into education at that time was mainly females.  they enjoyed the organization and structure because it gave them a chance to get out of school at 3 pm and go home and take care of the responsibilities that were feminine more so in the home and prepare dinner and take care of their second job.  they didn't' want to change.   for them the existing system worked.

the culture as well.

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it was difficult for them to take on other responsibilities because that meant more hours even if it meant more money 

[i think he refers to teachers having to take weekend courses and taking more responsibility as change agents…  they preferred to be teachers)

it is still difficult to produce change in public education. it is not easy as you know.  we now have a charter movement that is forcing change where they are allowed to force change and many of their changes are no better than what's going on in the public school.  in fact worse because they don't have all of the peripheral support that you have in a public school in addition to teaching classes.  Some charters are successful, charters give a way for public schools to examine what they are doing… even though charter schools are public schools, they have more freedom to produce change.   as i look at that particular movement, if public schools pick up on the need for change, then charter schools might not last.   eventually public schools will emulate the positives that we see in the charter schools.

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question;  how was the cluster program operated?  was it interactive?

FISCHLER:  It was interactive because they met … 

Q:  When did the program become international?

FISCHLER:  I think we went to puerto rico first.   

then we went to the Bahamas.  We went to S America, to colombia because we helped to open a foundation called CINDi.   Marta Arango and glenn Libnik  [???]

at berkeley, they came here to go on a Ford grant to venezuela to do educational planning.  when we finished that grant, Marta, who was colombian, wanted to  go back to Colombia and do the things that we were doing.   so we helped her.   she lived in Medellin, then we went elsewhere.  That was the catalyst that enabled us to do some things.

I got an honorary degree from the National University of Colombia in Manizales [spelling??] where we stated a program as well.  by evolution, we got into 10 countries and mainly by invitation.   

other questions?

we then started a program in DPA public administration.  John Theobald was a friend at NYIT and I asked Alex Schur [??] to lend him to us.  he came down for 90 days, we wrote up a program for DPA mainly because the political process was beginning to do what were were doing, and I felt that it would be important to co-opt them by having them go through the same kind of a program that they were critical of.

we were stopped in many states because education is a states right and you have to file for a license to provide for education in the state and we had to go reviews state by state … since we didn't have any major clients that would play the political game, we had to do it ourselves and they would send teams around and find some reason to prevent us.  the one that was the most difficult was north carolina.

with Friday.  he got me angry, which was a mistake, i think, because….

up to minute 4:13

story of the trial is located at


Video 3

Here is the transcription

History of Nova University

Listen starting in minute 2:50

We started a third program in public administration. We wrote up a program for doctorate, a D.P.A. The political process was beginning to infringe on our ability to do what we were doing.

Minute 3:10

I felt that it would be important to have them go through the same kind of program that they were critical of.

Minute 3:29

We were stopped in many states ... because education is a state's right, we had to apply for a license to provide a course in s state, and we had to go through a review state by state. 

They [the state regulators] would send teams around to find reasons to prevent us from being granted the license]. 

Minute 4:02

The state that was most difficult was North Carolina. "I like the idea but because I like the idea, North Carolina will do it and you can't come in." That was the same group that was charged with accrediting us to give us permission to come into the state, the board of the North Carolina Universities.

Minute 4:30 

I said to myself, "Something is wrong." So we ended up taking North Carolina into the North Carolina courts.   I got a law firm from Washington to handle the case for me.  

We paraded in front of the courts the professors we were using, the work that was being done, and the court of North Carolina said to Friday, "You'll have to allow them come in."

Minute 5

That was $100,000 of legal expenses for $10,000 bottom line income.

But Nova had to do it somewhere to demonstrate a commitment on the part of this university that what we were doing was producing a product that was effective. We didn't promise that we were producing principals that were going to turn into superintendents. We said that the principal would be a better principal in the schools where they were.

Now about the requirements for becoming a superintendents.

That was an interesting area.  In New Jersey, students who got their credential with us were able to apply to become principals.  But those in Pennsylvania who were principals were not able to become superintendents.  so we had another exchange back and forth.   The people in PEnn would apply for a superintendent's license in New Jersey, and that was reciprocal [the pennsylvania principal could then apply to be a superintendent in Pennsylvania].  

those are  the kinds of obstacles that we met as we moved through and were growing.  As far as students were concerned, we were operating near capacity in two out of the three programs.  in the public administration, it was the most difficult program for the participants.  we had some really tough academic people in that program. 

We had about a 50% dropout in that program from those who started.  In the other programs after the first year we had almost no drop outs.   so those programs fit what the clients wanted.  the DPA was more difficult.  A number of them dropped out after they started the program.  WE combined with the DBA and they had some courses together so it made it economically viable coming off of a central core.  in fact Nova still has a Doctor of Business Administration and we still have a Doctor of Public Administration.  


Were there other major universities….


Most universities were antagonistic.  there were articles that we were a diploma mill.  In my own city, they called Nova "the monkey farm," especially those in Oceanography.  because we had moved them from what they were doing to what we were economically able to do.  but gradually it broke through especially after the fifth year with SACS.   then it opened up the system.


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and now you have phoenix and Kaplan doing distance education and a good number of universities are now providing distance education.

it is easier now because of the technology that is available. and the ability to have students interact through technology.  it is going to go with the mobile units.  now we have laptops and iphones and that will move it through faster.  The classes will be done through the telephone and even the laptops will go away.  The engineering  and the changes that will occur to provide educational opportunity easily once this evolution takes place and more mobile devices are available to people to acquire knowledge in that way.   I took a course from People Tech by telephone.  there are 12 of us, we never saw each other, we had a phone call every 2 weeks and it worked.  it worked because i was even examining myself by taking personalized tests which were read and fed back to me.   then there was a personal phone call to discuss the outcome so there was lots of opportunity for interaction.  between prof and myself by telephone.

i see this coming more readily available to students.  The other day i took a two day course offered by the pacific institute, 15 modules examining yourself based on recent research.

it is a satisfying experience when a module is well done.  Every module had goals, a statement on why those goals are important, four or five questions that you had to answer, then they had a 20 or 30 minute video taught by Lou Tess and it took you through the rationale for what you were doing and an explanation.  the other piee was a transcript of what he said in the video

so if you look at that it is appealing to you from three senses, sight, reading and audio

reading, listening and a chance to read again as a result of the video there is also a facilitator….  you got together with the group and the facilitator asked what you had observed.  So you have that input as well.

it takes about an hour per module.   i found it another way of gaining information by having a facilitator with the professor giving you the video and forcing you to watch with the others.

when you leave you take the video with you so you can look at it again at home.  i found it effective.

the future

up to now, in both K-12 and higher ed, the class is the unit. the assumption is that people are ready to receive what is being sent and the time is fixed.

so when you look at the public school system, about 30% drop out, and they drop out because they do not have the prerequisites and advantages of the technology and it is a difficult issue.  They gradually get punished because they drift farther and farther behind.  

if their parents care, they get punished at home.  So you get punished at school by getting Fs. and then you are not going to stay in that environment for rewards, and you end up going into behaviors that are not acceptable to society.  in the public school system, we have to move to where time is a variable and we need to aim for mastery.  

so from the technology in distance education, we have the opportunity to do the same thing through technology which enables the computer assisted instruction to be more effective.  it is easy to provide the core of what you want students to learn through the CAI  and provide time to put them in small groups so they get the soft skills that are essential to function in this society.  the basic core subjects are fed where time is a variable.  mastery is the aim.  You have to use methodologies that allow students to learn at a rate that lets them succeed.  you reinforce successes and that allows them to feel good about themselves and provide the additional soft skills through project and cooperative learning, you have the best organizational structure.  the unit is the client.  the student is the class, each student is the client,  each student deserves the time to be successful.  i don't know the rate that students will learn, so i have to allow the client the opportunity even if it takes more time.  some will finish at 16 and others at 20 so economically it won't cost you more.  but it will help the student achieve the objective of a legitimate high school diploma.   

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with that diploma, the world opens up.  he can go to a community college and take what is needed to get a decent job.  without the community college degree at least, it is difficult to get a decent salary.  what i've learned in higher ed, i can transpose in the K12 situation.  i have a blog called  

with the infusion of technology, we can provide computer assisted instruction in math and english which are the cultural imperatives to produce the self learner.  

that's where change comes in.   we still need the teacher  but not the time keeper for every student.

question:  you mentioned quality and rigor and implied that a high quality faculty got Nova started.   How can we maintain that quality today?   what should the leaders ensure to keep quality measures up to expectations?


you organize it so that there is enough interchange between the students who are the clients and the dialogs  available within the institution

that it doesn't take you long to get the feedback that you need.  then you send some colleagues in and see if they can help.  if they can't, the professor lacks the ability or the knowledge base, you let them go.

in nova there is no tenure.  you have a one year contract, then a two year contract and then a three year contract.     it doesn't take you long to weed them out and you have to be honest and weed them out.  

QUESTION:  So it really comes down to high quality faculty

FISCHLER:  yes, you want to keep the best you can get, and you have to pay a decent salary.  this university pays what you would get at other institutions.

QUESTION  the concept of the diploma mill has not gone away.  what can we do to make sure the concept of the diploma mill doesn't cloud our efforts… 

FISCHLER:  i don't think distance ed is going anywhere.  the two big for profit institutions are not under threat, Kaplan and Phoenix.  Nova is not under threat.    Nova doesn't think they are ask respectable as they would be if the can go through the independent accreditations

[it sounds as though Fischler is saying that nova is seeking approval from independent accreditations instead of feeling confident about its product.]

   the independent accreditations are still looking at INPUT instead of OUTPUT.

[if Nova didn't seek the independent accords, the school would not have to focus so much on the input]

the business school is becoming more yesterday than tomorrow. [to meet the needs and expectations of the accreditors]

when we started the law school, they were not going to inspect us if we didn't have tenure.  

so i had to come back and say to the faculty, either we close the law school or you have to let me give tenure in the law school and nowhere else in the university.  they voted to allow me to do it.  the only place we have tenure is the law school.

now the accreditors don't demand tenure any longer.   but they did then.

QUALITY:  the school reform movement is looking at tenure for K-12.  What is your opinion about tenure vs. incentive pay for performance?

FISCHLER  i don't think we should have lifetime contracts.  people change, interests change.  in general, i never worried about tenure.

personally i had enough confidence in my self to find a job.

in the public school there should be some security after some length.  if you are a teacher for three years and you get off probation, maybe once every 5 years you get examined, something that give you confidence.  I don't think you should have tenure.   some blend of that.

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question:  open courseware.  similar to what MIT has.  Has NOVA looked at open courseware?

FISCHLER:  I can't answer that question.  i stepped out of the presidency in 1992.  I moved out of the building and i try to mind my own business.

in a way, distance ed gives you the opportunity to use open courseware.   you have open access.   that starts in the elementary schools learning powerpoint and making presentations, you have open courseware.  we have access to libraries all over the world, free.


imagine if we made the course work of (for example) introduction to Psychology free of charge to anyone.

it's a way to market the school.  we have quality people and courses that are rigorous and engaging.  not just sit in your seat and get an A.  not all courses, but you get a smattering of what the academic of the school is doing…

yale and harvard are part of the consortium.  

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QUESTIONER 2:  what about giving free workshops… our syllabus is free.  I can give an example of what we cover… 


you want me to provide that free.   

Gracioso, what do you think about that?

GRACIOSO:  the competition for business schools is high.  what you describe .. .what course should we offer that way?  in the undergrad and graduate curriculum.  there is a catalog world's greatest courses.  they take great professors and put them on DVD and sell them for $49.  from a marketing perspective, it is superb, and it is a service to society.  if every school did this, you could probably get the equivalent in knowledge and skill of a bachelor's degree without a diploma and without paying tuition.  for a society through its educational institutions, it would be phenomenal.

QUESTION (inaudible)

charles wedemeyer worked in this area and it has blossomed through the world.  the consortium …. has thousands of schools … 


how has the transition been from distance education to the traditional campus?

FISCHLER:  the traditional campus started with the law school and it grew with the medical school and Psych and the business school is moving to a more traditional environment.  there is pressure from the individual accrediting groups  

so this institution has a blend.   We have traditional and you end up doing it as best you can but understand that there are constraints form the old system that keep  you operating in the nebulous area.  

How far can we go?   in the doctoral program, nova pushed as far as we could go.  as fast as we could go.  but there were constraints that we had to fight.  it takes trailblazing to open the system to give it flexibility 

it's not that one system is better than another, with DE it is just more convenient.   it is more convenient for the learner, who we are trying to serve.

at one time we had television courses.  Harvey White taught one, others taught in the morning before you went to work.i don't know any college that is doing some form of distance education.

QUESTION:   what is your take about distance ed in undergraduate?

answer:    it is the last piece to fill in.  We did 0-5 and there was a big gap.  I don't know how much non traditional activity is taking place in the undergraduate area.  they seem to be gaining more students, which is helpful to us  It's positive because it is a feeder to the doctoral program.  we're about 80% doctoral students and only 20% undergraduate.   

COMMENT:  how about the impact of Nova in bringing transformational change in other countries.   There was a Fischler school professor who cam to South Africa in 1989 and questioned the non governmental organizations about transformation and racist policies. As a result of his speaking at that conference, the whole NGO sector transformed itself and brought about change in the country in civic structures.   three people out of that movement were in the Fischler master's program … one is head of the ministry of children and families in canada.  the other has transformed the boy's town movement phenomenally  and it is documented what they have done.  On Nova's 50th anniversary (in 2014) and your presidency (because this happened on your watch)  it would be great to see what the impact of nova graduates have been.  

especially in the model of practicums.   you were supposed to solve a problem in your workplace.   how about collection those, showing what the people have done and put it in paper format so that the world can see what Nova has encouraged and fostered.   it is amazing to see how your vision is still unfurling.  the pattern is increasing.

Fischler:  It's easy to change your vision when you don't have to implement it.  someone offered me a presidency not too long ago.  I said, You only do what I did once.  you don't do it a second time.

i appreciate you coming and it gives me a chance to go back and think about the institution.   

end of talk.

If you find the need for corrections to this transcript, please write to with the changes.

"Teachers need to change from being the preacher to being the communicator of the setting." -- Dr. Fischler
Meeting with Jason Trinidad

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