KEEP THE NEW ATTITUDE - Defend universities against stingy Legislature
Source: Palm Beach Post
The Board of Governors that oversees Florida's public university system has been going along to get along but faces no more significant challenge than now. Gov. Bush and the Legislature were contemptuous of the board even when Tallahassee wasn't financially strapped.
Comes now a major state budget shortage, on top of the university system's $120 million enrollment financing shortfall since 2004, plus new Gov. Crist's recent veto of a 5 percent tuition increase.
That explains the correct stand the board has taken: suing to establish tuition at a level at least above subsistence. Florida has the nation's lowest resident tuition because no one has challenged lawmakers' authority to set it. Not surprisingly, the university system also has the nation's next-to-worst student-to-faculty ratios. Yet Gov. Crist vetoed an increase that would have cost students $55 per semester while providing more of the teachers and classes they need to graduate.
A big question when the board meets today and Thursday in Tallahassee is whether it moves forward on its own tuition plans or again defers to lawmakers. After all, the pending lawsuit that the board joined was initiated by former Gov. Bob Graham and other citizens. It took a similar lawsuit led by Gov. Graham and a 2002 constitutional amendment to create the board, after Gov. Bush and the Legislature abolished the Board of Regents.
Dean Colson's appointment as the governor's special adviser on higher education might be spun as giving Gov. Crist time to formulate a realistic policy. In the meantime, the 4-percent-to-10-percent statewide budget cuts proposed for the upcoming special session would translate to an additional $100 million to $232 million lost from the university system's $2.3-billion operating budget.
Board of Governors Chairwoman Carolyn Roberts was right to question how $80 million in taxpayer money for a new institute at private University of Miami can be exempt from cuts while public universities are freezing hiring, courses and enrollment. The board was right to affirm its constitutional authority to ensure adequate financing of the university system. UM, where Mr. Colson is chairman of the board of trustees, is in House Speaker Marco Rubio's district.
Ms. Roberts' colleagues might join her in asking them and Gov. Crist to be part of the solution students deserve.