Lawmakers' personal interests complicate effort to reform universities
Amid a clamor to overhaul a state university system lawmakers say isn't cutting it, Sen. John Thrasher wants to ban lawmakers from holding jobs with public colleges and universities they fund.
Given past scandal, Thrasher said it's best to eliminate the "conflict of interest."
But Thrasher is the same lawmaker who, as House speaker in 2000, helped secure a new medical school at Florida State University that higher education officials resisted. Then he helped eliminate the state board that opposed it.
In a speech opening the legislative session, House Speaker Dean Cannon said Florida's public university system is "racing toward the middle," a hodgepodge of schools with no clear mission and overlapping agendas.
And he put part of the blame on lawmakers.
"We, as a Legislature, and I freely include myself in this critique, have contributed to the problem by parochially advancing the interests of our local university or college at the expense of the system as a whole," Cannon, R-Winter Park, said.
He echoed recent demands by Gov. Rick Scott that universities must prove their value to the state's economic bottom line.
Starting with several bills this session to create bigger change later, Senate President-designate Don Gaetz promises a revolutionary effort when he takes over as the next Senate president that will "lash" the state's primary and higher education systems to its economic needs.
But deeply vested interests, at universities and in the House and Senate, are among the most formidable walls to significant overhauls.