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News Clips 06/07/2011
Turf battle looming between powerhouse universities and state board
Source: Florida Current, 06/06/11
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By Gary Fineout
An attempt by leaders of Florida’s state university system to plan for the future and avoid duplication among rival schools is running into the same kind of resistance that has doomed past efforts.
An hour-and-half long discussion about the idea on Monday grew testy when a top official from the University of Florida clashed with State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan over whether proposed new regulations being considered by the Board of Governors are too restrictive.
“The University of Florida has great concern about this regulation,” said UF Provost Joe Glover. “We feel it does a disservice to the state and the university.”
The Board of Governors -- which oversees the state’s 11 state universities -- has begun a process to create a new “strategic plan” meant to map out the growth of the system between 2012 and 2025. This strategic plan will likely include standards and goals that all universities are supposed to meet over that time period.
But the part of the strategic plan that is likely to draw fire -- and even a political tug of war -- stems from an effort during a time of dwindling taxpayer dollars to assert some level of statewide control over how universities grow and branch out. The initial draft discussed on Monday by several members of the state board includes spelling out which degree programs universities can add in the next five years.
And one of the new regulations tied to the strategic plan would require universities to notify rival schools when a university plans to expand in other parts of the state. Top officials -- including the chancellor -- would be responsible for working out an arrangement if the two schools are unable to reach a deal between each other.
Brogan said some of the wording in the proposals had been worked on for two years in an effort not to “micromanage” what individual universities do. He contended it would not limit what schools can do in the future.
“The idea was to give people the constant ability to grow and evolve but do it in a way that is organized,’’ Brogan said.
But Glover strongly disagreed, saying that anything that requires going to the full board for approval is too limiting and would take too much time.
“The state has invested in the University of Florida for a hundred years; we don’t think we should be restricted to Alachua County and Marion County,’’ Glover said.
The back and forth on Monday was a reminder that while Florida has a state university system, powerful and politically-connected universities have been able to sidestep centralized controls and have been able to push ahead with programs designed to build up the individual institutions.
An effort in the late '90s by a former chancellor to group universities and assign them specific duties and limit their future growth created a fierce backlash. State lawmakers pushed to abolish the previous board that oversaw state universities after it resisted an initial push by Florida State University to gain a medical school. The Board of Governors was only created after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2002.
There have been new clashes between rival schools in the past year, such as when FSU agreed to a partnership with a private company that will allow students in West Palm Beach to earn degrees from the Tallahassee-based university despite the fact that Florida Atlantic University is nearby.
Dean Colson, a Miami attorney and a member of the Board of Governors, said he understood the desire of colleges to collaborate in an effort to find new sources of revenue. But he said that he doesn’t want other universities moving into other parts of the state and “building buildings.”
Colson also said that the board is right to place some limits, noting that UF is so “much bigger with a brand that we can’t let them put other schools out of business.”
John Delaney, the University of North Florida president, may have summed up the challenge for the Board of Governors in the most succinct fashion. When asked for his comment on the proposal, Delaney quipped, “Good luck.”