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Legislative bullying won't fix universities

As an example of how direct legislative control over Florida universities might look, senators played the role exquisitely on Wednesday. Not willing to listen as university chancellor Mark Rosenberg described his misgivings with a fast-track plan to abolish the Board of Governors, they instead wanted to insult him.

"It will make our education system weaker, not stronger,'' Rosenberg said of the change. "It will further erode our state credibility in national education circles.''

Sen. Larcenia Bullard: "I don't even know who the Board of Governors is. They never come see me."

Sen. Don Gaetz: "This is a system you just indicted, by saying it has not provided the quality education students deserve — which by the way was under your watch."

It doesn't matter to these political bullies that the system of governance they seem bent on destroying was put into place by Florida voters.

The Senate Education Committee went on to unanimously approve a resolution aimed at punishing a university board that has had the temerity to tell the truth about the nearly two decades of state budget neglect in higher education. Never mind that most of these academic agitators just happen to be conservative, high-powered business people who were appointed to the board by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Senate President Ken Pruitt has been spoiling for this fight, in part because board members have called for raising the state's rock-bottom tuition. In the process, he appears more than willing to insult the chancellor, the board members and, most notably, the voters who decided in 2002 to create the board to insulate higher education from politicians just like Pruitt.

Pruitt and his Senate partners may have fun shooting the messenger, but that won't change the reality. Florida universities are flat broke and, without a greater financial commitment from the Legislature, they have no choice but to cut enrollment. If Rosenberg were to say otherwise, he would be guilty of academic malpractice.

In his awkward attempt to belittle Rosenberg on Wednesday, committee Chairman Gaetz unwittingly made the relative financial point. Thomas Jefferson, Gaetz wanted the chancellor to acknowledge, had sought legislative control for the University of Virginia. Yes, but leaving aside the relevance of 18th century Virginia history, today's Florida fight is also about tuition. And those numbers tell a story. At the University of Virginia, it is currently $8,690. At the University of Florida, it is $3,370.

Killing the Board of Governors won't change the financial truth.

Legislative bullying won't fix universities 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 8:54pm]
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