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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Proposal to change state higher education system upsets Board of Governors

Members of the Florida Board of Governors are up in arms about a proposed joint legislative resolution that would strip the board of many powers and put higher education in the hands of the Legislature.

Sen. Lisa Carlton proposed a joint resolution Feb. 26 that would reduce members on the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 public universities. Instead of 14 govenor-appointed members serving seven-year terms, five appointed members would serve four-year terms.

The commissioner of education, chairman of the advisory council of faculty senates and the president of the Florida Student Association would retain their positions.

The resolution also proposes placing the commissioner of education on the Florida Cabinet to supervise public education. The state Board of Education would be replaced with Gov. Charlie Crist and his Florida Cabinet.

The Legislature would determine the board's powers.

During an emergency conference call with the rest of the board Tuesday morning, Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said the Legislature's direct control over state universities could lead to more politicized curriculums, more crowded classrooms and a faculty "brain drain" due to the system's instability.

"The direction that the proposal moves in, in essence, may be an opportunity for our public universities to be highly criticized institutions driven by political agendas," Rosenberg said. "That's not the way for our students to be educated."

Carlton said the new system would only improve state education. It's not meant to abolish the board, she said.

Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the board, said what's troubling about Carlton's suggestion is that it was a surprise, and she hoped the Legislature would not "fast track" the proposal.

If legislators acts quickly, it could be approved by three-fifths of both the state Senate and House of Representatives by next week, Roberts said. There must be time to discuss the resolution's implications, she said. Anything less is unfair to Florida families, students, faculty and university leaders.

"We have an understanding with the presidents, and they have an understanding with us, that we'll try to keep the surprises to a minimum," Roberts said.

Alligator staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report.

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