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Friday, December 01, 2023

It looks like the honeymoon is over.

In the past, we?ve been delightfully surprised by Gov. Charlie Crist?s moderate, non-Jeb stances toward everything from the environment to an executive order requiring the state government to use plain English instead of jargon when talking politics. We?ve wondered if he is secretly a Democrat posing as a Republican.

Our highly critical department of Darts & Laurels has even given him some laurels. Now that?s impressive.

But we?re starting to wonder if all that self-tanner has gone to his head because the man who touts himself as "The People?s Governor" on his Web site has morphed into "The People Except the Students? Governor."

We weren?t surprised when he vetoed a 5 percent tuition increase in May, but hey, plenty of people - students and non-students alike - supported that decision. He said from the start that he doesn?t support raising the cost of tuition and putting the burden on Florida?s families. But we can forgive him because we?ve got the Tuition Differential Program lined up to take effect in fall 2008.

But it got worse. Crist proposed a 6.2 percent cut from the State University System?s funding, or about ,600 per student. The overall average proposed cut for the rest of the state?s budget is 3.6 percent, meaning our universities got shafted. For some reason, Florida?s universities are being asked to carry a bigger burden than the rest of the state.

Never mind that the universities are already underfunded while taking on more and more students every year. Never mind that our student-faculty ratios are abysmal. Never mind that according to its Web site, UF?s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has only 12 full-time undergraduate advisers - about one per 1,000 students.

These are public universities we?re talking about. We don?t have wildly high tuition. Actually, Florida?s universities have the lowest tuition in nation. We don?t have donors lining up and writing us blank checks. We?re pretty sure if you went around to any of Florida?s 11 public universities, they?d all say they could use some extra cash. The bigger ones - UF, Florida State University and the University of South Florida - might even start begging.

UF was already planning to be ,30 million to ,34 million poorer next year. The amount it anticipates receiving from the Tuition Differential Program is only about ,17 million. It doesn?t take a math major to figure out that will leave UF in the red. And if the proposed cuts go through, that difference will get larger.

The Florida Legislature has never been particularly generous with universities. We?d hoped that would change with Crist at the helm, but we?ve been wrong before. The irony of all this? Charlie is a product of the State University System. Yup, he graduated from FSU in 1978.

Maybe things were different 30 years ago. Maybe our universities have gotten better over time, drawing in more students because of their great value, esteemed professors and amazing sports programs.

Maybe Crist needs a wake-up call. It could just be a recording of his inaugural address from Jan. 2. "Florida has the nation?s best and brightest," Crist said. "Our colleges and universities are national leaders."

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