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the local trustee boards to “little
bitty kingdoms,” and charged that,
“Whoever had the best politicians,
the best lobbyists, got a medical
school, got all this stuff. You’re
dealing with a provision passed
by the people that has not only
been mismanaged, but deliberately
converted or perverted to be a power
play.”
Although the Board of
Governors seems to have begun
to flex its muscles, few on any side
of the various debates are entirely
happy with it yet. The board did little to challenge the political
blockbuster medical school proposals at the University of
Central Florida and Florida International University, for
instance.
While he’s optimistic, York said, “there are a number of
things I think need to be done that they haven’t done. For
example, there was no credible evidence that we needed two
newmedical colleges, yet the Board of Governors has now
approved two. The chair says she’s concerned about alienating
the legislature. Well, hell’s bells, what was the purpose of the
amendment in the first place?” TomAuxter, president of
the United Faculty of Florida union, complains the board
is “always looking over their shoulder and being careful not
to do anything the governor doesn’t want or the legislature
doesn’t want. I think that eventually the Board of Governors
will have the kind of power and authority and composition
that it needs to do its work, but not for 15 years or so.”
As for Roberts, she said Florida’s governance system “is
going to work very well. It has not been without some serious
conversations,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “But I
believe, overall, people are becoming comfortable.”
They had better settle in. Florida continues to face huge
challenges. A voter referendum that mandated smaller class
sizes in primary and secondary schools has turned out to
be impossibly expensive, leading universities to wonder
whether the money will come out of their budgets; already,
the education commissioner has proposed diverting cash
for K–12 construction from a fund supported by utility
taxes that has long been designated exclusively for university
construction. “That is going to take a large amount of money,
and we have to compete with that, too,” Roberts said. “But, you
know, [the universities] have class size issues, too, as I keep
telling the legislature.”
The Florida Board of Education has instituted a new
process for community colleges to offer still more four-year
degrees, largely over the universities’ objections. While
Florida’s community colleges lead the nation in associate’s
degrees granted, the state ranks 47th in the number of
bachelor’s degrees. And the breakneck population growth
shows no signs of abating, which will force important
decisions about whether to send even more students through
the community colleges or build new state universities or
Update
Florida’s Governance of
Public Education
March 2008
T
he struggle over Florida higher education governance,
described in
National CrossTalk
articles in 2001 and in 2006, has
continued unabated.
The basic issue is control. The Board of Governors of the State
University System believes it is empowered to make major policy
decisions for the 11 campuses and their 300,000 students. But the
Florida Legislature insists it has the authority to make those decisions,
especially the setting of tuition rates.
The issue was joined in the summer of 2007, when the Board of
Governors, which had been acting cautiously since its establishment
through a state constitutional amendment in 2002, seized the initiative
and approved a five percent undergraduate tuition increase to take
effect in the spring 2008 semester. However, the legislature then passed
its own five percent increase, nullifying the board action.
Later, legislators and Governor Charlie Crist agreed to allow the
state’s four largest campuses—the University of Florida, Florida State,
the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida—
to impose differential tuition increases of 30 to 40 percent over five
years.
Board members argued that tuition increases were needed because
the state’s average tuition and mandatory fees ($3,361 at the time)
were the lowest in the nation, while its student-faculty ratio of 31:1
was far higher than the national average of 25:1. They also pointed out
that state spending for the university system, already near the bottom
nationally, had been cut by $157 million in 2007-08, with even deeper
cuts expected in 2008-09.
“Quality is at risk,” board chair Carolyn Roberts told the
St.
Petersburg Times
. “Access is important to our state, but quality has to be
the number-one priority.”
But the Board of Governors’ action displeased the legislature, which
over the years has favored keeping tuitions low. State Senate President
Ken Pruitt, a Republican, introduced a resolution to abolish the
Board of Governors, as part of yet another overhaul of postsecondary
education governance—the
third in six years.
The Pruitt resolution
sought to abolish
the present Board of
Governors, replacing it
with a board “subservient
to the legislature,” a
spokesman for the Board of
Governors said. There also
would be changes in the
composition of the State
Board of Education and the
boards of trustees of the 11
state university campuses.
Finally, the
resolution would create
a Commissioner of
Florida state Senate
President Ken Pruitt, a
Republican, introduced
a resolution to abolish
the Board of Governors,
as part of yet another
overhaul of postsecondary
education governance—
the third in six years.
The University of
Central Florida, along
with two other Florida
universities, is among
the ten largest in the
United States, with more
than 45,000 students.