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Bush allies fill education board slots

Members of other panels and Republican fundraisers are among those who are appointed to oversee the state's universities.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 24, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- Their titles are new, but their faces are familiar.

Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday filled the new Board of Governors that will oversee state universities with close allies. He sprinkled several prominent Republican fundraisers into a mix that includes business leaders, former members of other education panels and plenty of supporters who were previously appointed to other positions.

Many of the 14 people Bush named already are trustees at universities around the state. Three have served as chairmen of the former Board of Regents, which provided a similar statewide vision for higher education. Most have served under Bush before.

"These appointees offer a broad range of skills," Bush said in a statement. "They are highly qualified and effective leaders who are committed to Florida's higher education system."

Bush named three prominent Republican fundraisers to the Board of Governors: Tampa businessman Chris Sullivan, the founder of the Outback Steakhouse restaurants; Tom Petway, the Jacksonville insurance executive who is the chairman of Bush's transition team; and Zachariah P. Zachariah, a Broward doctor.

In addition to the 14 people Bush named, the board automatically includes the state education commissioner, the state's top faculty adviser and the president of the state student association. The board's first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7, and its members will have to resign from their current boards.

Included among the appointments are two African-American members, one Hispanic member and six women members.

Voters created the new Board of Governors by approving a constitutional amendment last month. Bush and the Legislature abolished the old university Board of Regents last year, replacing it with a single Board of Education that oversaw all education in the state and individual boards of trustees for each university.

Initiated by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham , the amendment voters approved creates a Board of Governors that establishes statewide policy and spends money, while boards of trustees still oversee individual universities. The amendment created the state's third higher education governance structure in two years, and was opposed by Bush.

Graham said he was pleased Bush had made the appointments and hoped the new board will examine the selection and payment of university presidents.

"I hope that the board will put an end to what has become a bidding war among the universities for compensation rates of presidents, rather than a focus on academic leadership," Graham said in a statement.

But if Graham was hoping to centralize power over the state's universities back in the hands of a single board, he may be disappointed. Several appointees said they want to continue to hand more authority to each school's board of trustees.

"I like the idea of decentralized control," said Miguel De Grandy, a Miami lawyer who represented Republican state House members this year when the Legislature redrew the political map. De Grandy said university trustees should set the agenda for their school.

"I see the board of governors as the overall coordinator," De Grandy said.

Steve Uhlfelder, one of three appointees who has served as a chairman of the old Board of Regents, also likes the decentralized model. The only problem so far, Uhlfelder said, is out-of-control salaries that trustees have been granting their presidents lately.

"You can't do anything about the ones that have already been done," Uhlfelder said. "But maybe we can have a cease-fire until we can get some rules in place."

Carolyn Roberts, who also chaired the former regents, led an effort to oppose the constitutional amendment.

"The voters have spoken. This has nothing to do with the constitutional amendment. This has to do with my interest in the state university system. As far as I'm concerned, that is over," Roberts said.

Zachariah said he wants universities to tell board members how they view the board's priorities.

"Some people feel there is a duplication of services," he said, "but we have to look at all that."

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