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Florida universities' chancellor faces political, educational tests

TALLAHASSEE — When former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan became the state university system's chancellor three months ago, he faced an imposing list of financial and political problems.

Tight budgets have meant enrollment caps at most of the 11 schools. The Bright Futures scholarship program that is popular among middle-class parents is outstripping the Florida Lottery's ability to pay for it.

And the state's medical schools are churning out more graduates than Florida has places where they can get hospital residency training. That means new physicians educated largely at taxpayer expense are leaving a state with a doctor shortage.

Brogan's bosses on the Board of Governors, which oversees the universities, have raised the hackles of lawmakers through a lawsuit challenging the Legislature's authority to set tuition and make other decisions.

The board hired Brogan, also a former state education commissioner whose last job was president of Florida Atlantic University, because he's a political and educational insider.

"Frank Brogan has all the experience he needs to deal with higher education," said state Sen. Don Gaetz, a harsh critic of Brogan's predecessor, Mark Rosenberg. "Frank will be a very different chancellor because he doesn't just come from one perspective."

A Republican who was then-Gov. Jeb Bush's No. 2 from 1999 until 2003, Brogan will need to draw on his political skill to get on the right side of the GOP-controlled Legislature.

He recently appeared before several legislative committees to tout his vision for higher education. Some key lawmakers, though, were distracted by another matter.

"It is very difficult to talk about doing great things together when someone is suing you," said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican.

The board is part of a lawsuit against the Legislature initially filed by former Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham and several other prominent citizens two years ago. The lawsuit contends that only the board can set tuition and any related policies.

Brogan has said that he expects the board to seek a settlement that would avoid a trial. He said the board cannot just drop the suit because it concerns other governance issues. Also, Graham and the other plaintiffs would have to agree to any settlement.

A law the Legislature passed last year has opened the door for such an agreement because it gives both the Legislature and the board roles in setting tuition, Brogan said.

The lawsuit isn't the only hot issue Brogan inherited.

Bright Futures had paid all or 75 percent of tuition for college and university students who score well on entrance exams and have good grades, but this year lawmakers capped those payments at 2008 rates when they increased tuition.

"That was a major step forward," Brogan said. "I think there are probably also some other parts of Bright Futures that should be examined." That includes raising qualifying standards and using some of the lottery money for need-based aid.

On the doctor issue, new medical schools at Florida International and the University of Central Florida may do little to help ease the state's physician shortage without more residency slots because most doctors wind up practicing in communities where they do their residency.

Florida is short 2,700 residency slots, Brogan said. The federal government pays for most residency training, so Brogan has joined other university and hospital officials to lobby Congress to put more money in the national program or shift surplus slots to growth states that need them.

If those efforts fail, Brogan said Florida must find ways for the state and private sector to pay for more residency positions.

Florida universities' chancellor faces political, educational tests 11/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 9:33pm]
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