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University system needs a star

I'm thinkin' Jeb Bush as our next state university system chancellor.

You don't like that one? Then I'm thinkin' Bob Graham.

Still no? Then Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and Clinton Cabinet secretary. Or T.K. Wetherell, president of Florida State University.

Why all this thinkin'? Because of the report last week that one long-shot candidate might be Carl M. Kuttler Jr., president of St. Petersburg College.

Here's what I think about Kuttler as Florida's university chancellor:

Ab-so-dang-lutely.

You bet. Sign him up. Put him in charge of Florida's higher education.

Florida's university system needs a supernova leader now. Enough with the polite academic-types.

We need a chancellor who makes news by opening his or her mouth.

We need a chancellor who will charm 11 university presidents into line, sweet-talk the Legislature, fight with passion for students and faculty, and be a red-hot media force.

We need a chancellor who will chop off the right guy's head when it has to be done, and who will jump out and take a bullet himself when that has to be done, too.

Can you even name Florida's last university chancellor? How about the one before that? Or the two before that?

No disrespect to any of 'em. But enough with the qualified-academic-types. It is time for a real (bleep).

The last dynamic, out-front chancellor we had was a decade ago under the old Board of Regents. His name was Charlie Reed, and he was — this is praise — just a heck of a good politician.

I want a chancellor who can schmooze and tell jokes with legislators and make them beg to give more dough to the schools. I want a chancellor who is curing cancer and at the same time convincing the idjits that we need Shakespeare, too.

Okay, here's why I like Kuttler. Because he knows how to build. He built St. Petersburg College into an empire. He makes partners. He schemes. Museums and nurses and teachers and oddball partnerships spring up behind him as he walks past.

Most of all, he wants to give as many Floridians good four-year degrees as he can.

Absolutely, he has drawbacks. Enemies, too. The dissenters say he plays favorites and runs the joint like a king, that you're either on the inside or you're not. He's also 69, which maybe is a factor, maybe not. Also, there would be some sniffing over hiring a community-college guy as the university chancellor.

But I don't care.

I want Jeb or Bob Graham. That would be great.

Oh, man, the faculty unions would go bat-crazy at Jeb! But that's okay. He might make everybody take some stupid test, but that's okay too.

I'd like to see a bunch of state senators get all puffed-up and smug and try to bully him, the way they like to sneer at chancellors.

Jeb would kick their butts. They would fear him. That's not a bad thing.

So, give me Bush. Give me Graham. Give me Kuttler. Give me Shalala. Give me Wetherell, who will tell you what you can do to yourself and make you laugh while he does it.

Heck, give me Alex Sink, the state CFO. Give me Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida. Give me Bernie Machen from the University of Florida.

Give me a name.

University system needs a star 03/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:26am]
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