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funding, according to a study by the Florida Chamber of
Commerce Foundation.
Only 28 percent of Florida high school graduates go
immediately to college, compared to 54 percent in the best
performing states. Many begin their work toward a degree at
the community colleges, which struggle to keep up with the
demand. It was the community colleges that the education
“super board” singled out for protection from the budget cuts,
citing their soaring enrollment (especially of minorities) and
the need for worker training.
“It was pretty disastrous,” Atwell said of the early days
of the new system. “You had chaos. Each of the individual
institutions and their lobbyists and supporters worked
Tallahassee, competing with each other for resources. It was
absolutely Darwinian.”
In the end, the universities and community colleges
treaded water, ending up with their budgets undiminished
from the previous year, but also not raised. And even that
was only possible because of a significant increase in student
The more surprising outcome of the disarray came
in the familiar figure of U.S. Senator Bob Graham. The
former governor had been watching from the sidelines and
complained that, while the old Board of Regents had its flaws
(he once vetoed an earlier attempt by the legislature to abolish
it), the new structure invited too much political interference
in higher education. Along with E.T. York, former state
university system chancellor, and others, Graham started
campaigning for a referendum to revive a Board of Regents-
like governing body. Local boards of trustees would remain in
place, but there would again be a statewide governing council
that would determine howmoney allocated by the legislature
for the universities would be spent—on, say, medical or law
schools, or not. The Graham proposal went on the ballot as
Amendment 11 in November 2002.
State university presidents, many university trustees,
and the community colleges lined up against the measure.
The community colleges were particularly opposed, saying
Graham’s new board ignored the community college system,
which serves four times as many students as the state
universities. “The dynamics of it are, you have the children
in the K–12 system that everyone wants to take care of; and
the universities seem to be where people—even people who
go to community colleges and then on to universities—have
more of a connection than with their community colleges,”
saidMichael Comins, chief executive officer of the Florida
Association of Community Colleges.
Backers of Amendment 11, including former Board of
Regents member Joan Ruffier, said that, whether they liked
it or not, the universities needed some form of a statewide
governing body to advocate for their collective interests.
“Florida is trying to build the best university system in the
country, if not the world,” Ruffier said. “To have a single board
overseeing all of education was just too much. We felt we
couldn’t go back to the way things were because the boards
of trustees had been put in place. But there was no overriding
system to prevent the universities from competing to mutual
“To the surprise of a lot of people,” as Atwell put it, the
amendment was
approved by the
voters, creating a new
Board of Governors to
oversee Florida’s public
university system. It
would be the third
higher education
governance structure
in the state in as many
years. And it already
had a big problem:
The members were to
be appointed by the
governor, and showed
no signs of wanting to
rock the boat. “That was
a terrible thing to do,
and it haunts us today,”
Atwell said.
The Board of
Governors, loaded with
Jeb Bush appointees,
met for the first time
in January 2003 and almost immediately refused much of the
power voters had given them. They filled the university boards
of trustees with the same people who had been on them
before, using a list provided by the governor’s office. While
the people who had written the amendment said the board
should set tuition, it left that to the legislature. Although it was
authorized to set presidential compensation and bargain with
unions, it let the trustees do that. And it ruled that a proposed
chiropractic school at Florida State University did not need its
The chiropractic school proposal marked as much of
a milestone as had Amendment 11. With shades of the
medical school that had been snagged by JohnThrasher, the
chiropractic college was the baby of Senate President JimKing,
a Florida State University alumnus, and then-Senate Majority
Leader Dennis Jones, a chiropractor. It was a formidable
The university’s faculty came out against the school,
calling chiropractic medicine a pseudo science. So did alumni
who feared that it would hurt their alma mater’s academic
reputation. Florida already has more chiropractors than the
national average; a new private chiropractic college had just
opened near Daytona.
Then, nearly two years after deciding that it would not
weigh in, the Board of Governors voted unanimously that
the chiropractic college did, in fact, require its approval. Two
months after that, on January 27, 2005, the board rejected the
proposal. “That was when we really came of age,” said Carolyn
Roberts, the chairman and a veteran of the Board of Regents.
“We are an evolving system. Anything healthy evolves.”
It wasn’t an entirely spontaneous epiphany. The backers of
Amendment 11 had sued the board to do what they said it was
supposed to do—stop legislators from funding pet projects
at the universities in their districts or at the schools they had
attended, for example. In a hearing, the plaintiffs compared
1) Florida A&M (Tallahassee): 12,792
2) Florida Atlantic University
(Boca Raton): 25,994
3) Florida Gulf Coast University
(Fort Myers): 7,253
4) Florida International University
(Miami): 37,424
5) Florida State University
(Tallahassee): 39,652
6) New College of Florida (Sarasota): 761
7) University of Central Florida (Orlando): 45,090
8) University of Florida (Gainesville): 49,864
9) University of North Florida (Jacksonville): 15,420
10) University of South Florida (Tampa): 44,038
11) University of West Florida (Pensacola): 9,655
Florida’s Public Universities and
Their Fall 2005 Enrollments