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News Clips 04/12/2010
Our Opinion: Flagship schools
Source: Tallahassee Democrat 04/11/2010
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Save the rivalries for the football field.
Over the years, the University of Florida and Florida State University have vied for money from the Legislature, UF gaining the upper hand when its alumni were in power, and FSU likewise faring a little better when people such as T.K. Wetherell or Jim King were the top dogs.
This session, buried in Senate Bill 2442, a bill that "revises the powers and duties of the Board of Governors relating to accountability" and "requires that the board align the missions of each constituent university," was one word that took this competition to a new level: flagship.
After ripping off a few requirements for what defines a university of national and international impact, the bill tossed out the key phrase: Such a university "shall be afforded the freedom to pursue an agenda on the global stage in fair competition with other flagship institutions of other 50 states."
The bill is an attempt to free the cream of Florida's universities from some limitations placed on them by the Board of Governors and the Legislature. FSU President Eric Barron speaks of the aspirations of universities, a striving to be respected worldwide in a fast-changing game. "Turn me loose," Mr. Barron said, referring to everything from spending tuition dollars to keeping up with advances in medical science to competing for the growing number of graduate students who want to study online.
Giving the top universities more autonomy and freeing them of some of the guidance from on high would let them find efficiencies in what works for them.
The problem was that, until SB 2442 was amended Tuesday, only one university in the state fit the requirements for a flagship university. A hint: Think orange and blue.
Florida State, a major research university, a magnet for research dollars and an older school than UF (though Gators might argue that last point), begged to differ. So did the University of South Florida, which â€” with UF and FSU â€” is now one of three state research flagship universities. And maybe even the University of Central Florida, the biggest of the state's 11 universities.
Now, the word "flagship" no longer appears. Instead, the bill wants to offer freedom to compete "on the global stage in fair competition with other institutions of other states in the highest Carnegie classification."
FSU fits that description, as does USF. And UCF would be close behind if it chose to follow that path.
That's an improvement, and the bill passed out of the Higher Education Appropriations committee. But we wonder whether such a bill, introduced by committee chair Sen. Evelyn Lynn (Ed.D., UF. 1979), is needed at all.
Constitutionally, the Board of Governors "shall operate, regulate, control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system. These responsibilities shall include, but not be limited to, defining the distinctive mission of each constituent university."
So the bill would merely allow the BOG to offer more freedom. It would be encouraging, not mandatory. Whether the BOG would cheerfully give up such control is no idle question.
Beyond that, our state universities struggle to maintain the quality of education in the face of deep cuts in the financial support they get from the Legislature. With our limited dollars, should we risk duplicating programs and feeding rivalries and the battle for money and top students?
So far, there is no companion bill to SB 2442 in the House, and it has more steps to clear in the Senate. Its death might not be a bad thing. Certainly university presidents want more freedom, but we must be cautious and be certain that we are doing what is best for the whole state.