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Michael Comins, chief executive officer of the Florida
Association of Community Colleges, says the two-year
schools have been generally ignored in formation of the
various new higher education governance arrangements.
president of Florida
International University
got an $80,000 bonus and
a salary increase bringing
him to $542,608 a year.
Six weeks later, Hitt, at
UCF, got a $100,000
bonus, $80,000 in
deferred compensation,
and a raise to $450,000.
There are good
things going on in
Florida, too. There is
now finally a chancellor
of higher education,
Mark Rosenberg, former
provost at Florida
International University,
who university officials
rate highly but who
has so far kept a fairly
low profile. (Citing
scheduling pressures, a
Rosenberg spokesman
said he was unavailable
to be interviewed, in
response to requests made over a four-week period.)The
state continues to be a leader in the relationships between
universities and community colleges. “Left to our own
devices, we might have eventually gotten here anyway,” said
Cavanaugh, the University of West Florida president. “But the
(K–20) initiative really speeded up that process.”
Cavanaugh said there is also less competition than
collaboration among Florida’s 11 public universities. “Quite
honestly, and we can set the medical school debate aside, I
have not seen the university sector slug it out for who’s going
to get the next Ph.D. in English program or anything of that
sort.” Besides, he said, “a certain level of competition is good
for the system. To squelch competition would pretty much
lock in mediocrity.”
Decentralization in the form of their local boards of
trustees has tied the universities more closely to their
communities than most of them once were—and vice versa.
Local residents and, by extension, legislative delegations
these days take a deeper interest in the universities’ needs
for buildings, equipment and other resources. (It is also an
unaccustomed disadvantage for the University of Florida in
Gainesville and Florida State in Tallahassee; because of their
small-city hometowns, they don’t have the political clout that
they enjoyed before.)
Back at the University of Central Florida, the rush-hour
traffic on University Boulevard is even heavier than the
traffic driving toward fast-growing downtown Orlando 13
miles away. Four stories above the teeming campus, workers
are preparing to remodel Hitt’s outer office to make more
room. On the wall behind him at a conference table is a
satellite image of the school, carved out of a cypress swamp
and arranged in concentric circles with the parking on the
outside. There’s a 45,000-seat football stadium going up, along
with a 10,000-seat arena, new engineering and psychology
buildings, and new residence halls. More than $50 million
in land and cash has been raised for the newmedical school.
The university already has a $14 million recreation center
with an indoor track, a 41-foot climbing wall, a pool, and a
smoothie bar. Its Rosen College of Hospitality Management
is housed in a $28 million facility near Walt DisneyWorld. Its
College of Optics and Photonics is developing lasers used in
warfare and to detect chemical and biological weapons. And
its engineering program produces graduates ready to work at
nearby LockheedMartin.
Hitt worries most that some future governor will centralize
Florida’s university system again. “That’s the one concern
about it, that if you have another governor who didn’t believe
as Governor Bush did in devolution or decentralization, then
you might go back to one-size-fits-all. And it doesn’t work.
It just doesn’t.”With one exception, Hitt said: There is a need
for a central board “to divvy up enrollment, to divvy up
construction funds. You can’t leave that as a food fight among
the presidents. It does make sense to have a professional,
centralized body overseeing that.”The Board of Governors is
preparing a strategic plan, and that, said Hitt, “is the kind of
thing they ought to be doing.”
More than just Floridians will be watching.
Decentralization is a trend among public university systems.
From Illinois to New Jersey to Virginia, legislatures are
giving more autonomy to
individual institutions. “I
think it was the realization
of greater competition,
a feeling that the higher
educational market needed
nimble institutions to be
able to respond quickly
to student demand and
changes in the market—for
example, research projects
that could be moved more
quickly from the laboratory
to the market,” said Richard
Novak, vice president for
public-sector institutions at
the Center for Public Higher
Education Trusteeship and
Governance inWashington.
Still, he said, “There’s a
great concern about public
purposes and the need for
a state-level entity of some sort that can ensure that public
purposes, particularly access, affordability and participation,
don’t fall too far down the priority list.”
Yet on the whole, said Atwell, state governing bodies have
been weakened, not strengthened, despite the fact that “good
public policy is more than the sum of individual institutional
interests.”
u
JonMarcus is a writer based in Boston who covers higher
education in the U.S. for the (UK)
Times Higher Education
magazine.
Oscar Sosa, Black Star, for CrossTalk
A bipartisan
group of former
state officials
and educators
would ultimately
call Florida’s
higher education
governance
system “a banana
republic rife with
gamesmanship.”