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News Editorial Other Voices Interview

Florida's Unnatural Disaster
The state's economic bubble has burst, leaving higher education in a double bind

  In This Issue
 

Governors, legislatures and higher education officials are urged not to allow the current recession to deter efforts to make colleges and universities more accessible and affordable.
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News
Florida's Unnatural Disaster
The state's economic bubble has burst, leaving higher education in a double bind

Saudi King's Modern University
Partnerships are sought in attempt to establish a world-class institution

Hard Times
Tuitions rise, services cut, as university officials try to ride out a severe economic downturn

Financial Challenges
Oregon's Opportunity Grant program must overcome new hurdles due to the recession

Other Voices
Recessions Past and Present
Higher education struggles with state cuts, rising tuitions and a climate of uncertainty

Accountability Measures
States rely on new "data systems" to track institutional success and student outcomes

Great Expectations
Can research change the character of the affirmative action debate?

By Jon Marcus
Tallahassee, Florida

What Florida needs right about now is a hurricane. Not a major one that hurts anybody, T.K. Wetherell, president of Florida State University, is saying. Just big enough that people use their homeowners' insurance to buy roofing materials, new air conditioners, and other goods.

Wetherell is kidding—more or less. Considering that Florida has no income tax and depends almost entirely on sales taxes for government revenues, hurricanes over the last few years have generated jackpots for the state and, in turn, its higher education system. Recessions like this one, on the other hand, have proven unnatural disasters.

 
Florida's budget condition is "the worst I've seen in my tenure in education or politics," says T.K. Wetherell, president of Florida State University and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
(Photo by Colin Hackley, Black Star, for CrossTalk)
 

Even as Wetherell spoke, the legislature, meeting just a few blocks away, had just sliced another $114 million from Florida's 11 public universities, or nearly five percent, to help close a $2.3 billion budget shortfall. That was on top of a $174 million decrease imposed just a few months before. The state's budget has shrunk by $8 billion since last year, and even more money is likely to be slashed later this year, by which time revenues are expected to be another $2.5 billion shy of original projections.
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Saudi King's Modern University
Partnerships are sought in attempt to establish a world-class institution

 
   
By Robert A. Jones
Berkeley

Late in 2007 the Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau, took a call from Frank Press. Press is the 84-year-old former President of the National Academy of Sciences, former science advisor to President Jimmy Carter, distinguished seismologist, and an eminence grise in American higher education. When Press calls, university leaders usually pick up the phone.

This time Press was calling with an intriguing proposal. He wanted Birgeneau to consider lending Berkeley's prestige and assistance to a new project in Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. The university, known by its acronym KAUST, was about to rise out of the sand just north of Jeddah on the Red Sea. The ambitions for the university were very high and would be abetted by an initial endowment of $10 billion and maybe much more.

Initially Birgeneau was skeptical. Berkeley's reputation for high political sensitivity did not seem a good fit for a partnership with Saudi Arabia where women cannot drive cars, and where holders of Israeli passports cannot enter the country. Birgeneau peppered Press with questions. Would the University be open to all? Would classes be segregated by sex? Would religious discrimination be practiced against non-Muslims?

"These were the obvious questions," Birgeneau recalled. "I knew we could not participate in the enterprise if all groups were not going to be treated equally."

 
Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau agreed to UC Berkeley's partnership with Saudi Arabia in developing a new university. So far, the arrangement has brought Berkeley about $36 million in research grants.
(Photo by Rod Searcey for CrossTalk)
 

But soon, and somewhat to his surprise, Birgeneau found himself convinced by Press that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, was serious in his attempt to create a modern university in the western mold. Birgeneau agreed to take the next step, and soon a contingent of Saudis arrived to formally propose a five-year collaboration between the premier campus of the University of California and their unborn institution.
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