RAISING TUITION: Florida public universities want the freedom to raise student tuition by up to 10 percent, and student leaders don't seem quite sure what to think about it.
The Florida Student Association, composed of student government representatives from all nine state universities, supported the plan, then opposed it, then came around this week to supporting it yet again.
Oddly enough, the concession that students won Monday from state Chancellor Charles Reed _ a reiteration of the so-called 25 percent rule _ will have absolutely no effect on the new student fee, known as "differential tuition."
Student lobbyists say they knew that. But they wanted to keep the rule anyway, at least as a philosophical guide for the future.
On the surface, the 25 percent rule seems to imply that students will pay no more than 25 percent of the cost of their educations (the state is supposed to pick up the other 75 percent). As a practical matter, though, students already pay more than 25 percent.
Many people misunderstand the 25 percent rule, supposing it to be some kind of ceiling. In fact, it's more like a floor. It works like this: If tuition ever dips below the 25 percent mark, then the university system can raise it automatically without a vote of the Legislature. After the rule took effect in 1991, that never happened because tuition never dipped below 25 percent.
In other words, the rule allows the university system to raise tuition up to the 25 percent mark, but it does not restrict the Legislature from setting it higher, which in fact it did. (The current figure is about 28 percent.)
This year's tuition proposal is something entirely different.
Base tuition _ the rate set by legislators and charged by all nine universities _ would stay the same. But each university would have the option of imposing up to a 10 percent tuition surcharge, or discounting tuition by a similar amount, if that's what a university wants to do to attract more students.
Unlike base tuition, which is gathered into a statewide pool, this new money would stay with the campus that collects it. A committee composed equally of students and administrators would decide how to spend it. Reed and other university leaders say local flexibility and control are the plan's main virtue. Reed expects about seven of the nine universities to raise their tuitions.
Some student leaders also support differential tuition, saying the money will improve course availability, among other things. (Florida tuition is low by national standards.) The Florida Student Association endorsed the plan, so long as students were given equal weight on the local spending committees. Sharon Lettman, the association's executive director, said legislators would have approved the plan whether students supported it or not. Better to support it, she said, and win some student control over how the money is spent.
But student leaders at two universities _ North Florida and West Florida _ withdrew from the association in protest.
At the University of South Florida, where the student newspaper has strongly opposed differential tuition, student government president Jim Johnson has supported it, for the same reasons Lettman gave.
But Johnson also conditioned his support to saving the 25 percent rule. When Reed told legislators last week that the rule should be abolished, Johnson and other association members got upset. Then Reed met with the student association Monday and promised to support the rule. The students renewed their support for differential tuition.
The concession didn't cost Reed anything. As it happens, the 25 percent rule is written into a different part of state law from the section that allows differential tuition. Reed and legislative analysts agree that no university will be prevented from imposing the surcharge because of the 25 percent rule.
Still, student lobbyists were worried that, absent the rule, some future legislature might set base tuition as high as 30, 40 or even 50 percent of college costs.
"Even though (the rule) doesn't hold the Legislature back legally," Lettman said, "I'm sure it makes them think twice before they raise it too much more beyond the 25 percent."
MORE STUDENT POLITICS: A 1991 graduate of Tampa's Chamberlain High School, Fred Maglione, made the run-offs in Florida State University's student government elections last week. Maglione, a junior who had been vice president of FSU's student government, was running for president.
Maglione supported differential tuition, arguing that it was one way of keeping the money on campus. Otherwise, he said, the legislature can raise tuition and use it indirectly to build prison beds. (That really happened.)
Unfortunately for him, his opponent Ryan Orner opposed the plan. Orner got elected.
PRESIDENT'S HOUSE: June is still the projected move-in date for the new on-campus presidential mansion at USF. The house, near the main campus entrance, also will have a hospitality center for community events. Recently the members of Town and Gown, a group promoting community ties to USF, gave president Betty Castor a $25,000 check to help pay for the center.
WHAT'S IN A NAME: Though President Roy McTarnaghan has a new office, the new university he is building in Fort Myers still does not have a name.
Soon after the Legislature and governor approved plans for the school in 1991, a local committee ran a naming contest and forwarded several names to the Board of Regents. The regents chose one and sent it along to legislators.
Then nothing happened. Maybe it was the unfortunate sound of the acronym the regents chose: FGU, for Florida Gulf University. Maybe it was something else. But southwest Florida legislators have never reached enough of a consensus to produce a naming bill.
State Sen. Fred Dudley, R-Cape Coral, tried to break the logjam last week by introducing a different name, Caloosa State University. That name refers to an extinct Indian tribe that once thrived in the region. But no sooner had Dudley's idea cleared a Senate committee than other legislators started criticizing it.
Personally, we always liked another name that surfaced in the original contest. It refers to a swamp near the new Fort Myers campus: Corkscrew U.