As long as they don't cut football…

There was a little blip in the news the other day about the resignation of the dean of arts and sciences at the University of South Florida.

This news did not exactly set off shock waves across Tampa Bay. Maybe it would have been a bigger deal if Hulk Hogan's family were somehow involved.

And yet, the resignation of this dean, John Skvoretz, is part of a story much bigger than the Hulkster — in fact, it is one of the biggest stories brewing in Florida.

Skvoretz came to USF a little more than three years ago from the University of South Carolina amid high hopes.

On the research side, see, USF goes like gangbusters. The school could well cure cancer one day and reach the nation's elite research tiers. That would be great. All for it.

On the other hand, I have never heard anyone pound a lectern and demand that USF churn out the nation's top historians, musicians or philosophers. This is understandable, considering the economics involved, but unfortunate.

So this Skvoretz fellow, a sociologist by trade, was going to work on the mix. Three years later he is quitting, getting out just before a wave of reorganization that should be announced soon.

In a statement mild by Jerry Springer standards, but a tad in-your-face for a university bureaucracy, Skvoretz said he could not abide proposals for the "potential dismantling" of the college, with only "limited consideration" of the consequences.

This is one more thing happening against a backdrop of higher-ed budget cuts across the state, and continued battles over whether Florida's universities will be under the political control of the Legislature or an independent Board of Governors.

At USF this year, the budget cuts are about $35-million.

At the University of Florida, $47-million.

At Florida State University, $32-million.

We are already into a "brain drain" as some of Florida's university leaders and faculty are lured to states that appreciate them more. North Carolina's university system, for example, recently declared this is a fine time to be plucking talent from Florida.

High-profile faculty or administrators have left for Pennsylvania and Iowa, for Northwestern and Tulane, for Ohio and North Carolina. There has been a drumbeat of departure reports.

"My wife and I don't want to leave, but this is the worst it's ever been," Charles Figley, 62, an FSU trauma expert leaving for Tulane University after nearly two decades, said in one recent article. "It's just not a good place for academics these days."

Despite all this, there are still some Floridians who will say:

So what? Who needs a bunch of crybaby professors anyway? Let 'em leave. The universities need to slash their budgets just like everybody else, anyway. And so forth.

But me, I am a child of the South who believes this above all else concerning education: No state will become great and remain great without a great state university.

That includes scientific research, but it also includes the study of poetry and philosophy, painting and dancing.

If you agree, don't tell me. Tell your legislator. Look 'em up and call or send an e-mail, and say: "Somehow, you have gotten the notion that this is the Florida that I want. You are wrong. Change it."

In any case, we will have the state that we deserve.

As long as they don't cut football… 06/11/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 9:39pm]

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