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Board backs away from power play

The Board of Governors declines to stop an FSU chiropractic school, even though it wants to.

Published May 28, 2004

BOCA RATON - The board that oversees higher education in Florida knows it has the power to prevent Florida State University from opening what many consider an unnecessary chiropractic school.

And several members of the Board of Governors made it clear Thursday that they wanted to do exactly that.

But they didn't.

After a lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the board agreed only to ask its staff to work with FSU to develop the school's purpose and curriculum - a routine procedure that would have occurred anyway.

"We chose to duck it," said board member John Dasburg, who favored stopping FSU despite a go-ahead and $9-million from the Legislature. "But the day is coming when this board is going to have to take a stand."

"Duck, duck, duck. Quack, quack, quack," he repeated in fellow members ears after the board's monthly meeting ended at Florida Atlantic University.

Board chairwoman Carolyn Roberts, who told Dasburg to stop quacking, said she is comfortable with how the voter-mandated group has been using its powers since it was created 16 months ago.

"We all understand our responsibilities and what it will take to meet our goals," she said. "This in no way is a sign of weakness."

A conflict between the board and the Legislature had been looming for months as the new group struggles with how to use the extensive powers provided to it in the state Constitution. The board can create new schools, as well as set tuition and fees, but so far has let the Legislature retain those controls.

Howard Rock, a board member and professor at Florida International University, encouraged members to demand that FSU receive faculty and board approval before opening the chiropractic school - a suggestion made by faculty senates across the state.

"We cannot set precedent that the Legislature does what it wishes," he said. "It is our responsibility and not the Legislature's to make these decisions."

The Legislature this year set aside $9-million to establish the FSU chiropractic school, a pet project of Senate President Jim King and Senate Majority Leader Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island. Jones is a chiropractor.

Earlier this week, Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan Tallahassee research group, described similar projects as "turkeys" - Florida's name for pork barrel projects.

Gov. Jeb Bush is expected today to veto millions of dollars in turkeys when he signs the $58-billion state budget. But the chiropractic school can't be one of them because it was not listed separately in the budget.

The board, however, could have stopped FSU from receiving the $9-million or directed them to spend it on something else. Instead, the board decided to study the issue, leaving open the possibility that it will stop the school later or oppose future funding.

FSU officials were not at Thursday's meeting. A school lobbyist came in during the discussion, but stayed in another room after being warned of the debate.

John Thrasher, chairman of the FSU board of trustees, FSU President T.K. Wetherell and Provost Larry Abele did not return calls.

"We have the authority ," said board member Zach Zachariah, a cardiologist from Fort Lauderdale. "In my opinion, there's no question. We have to stand up."

Board members eventually voted 8-5 to table the proposal. Some members noted that the board had failed to oppose the school during the legislative session and only recently adopted a plan to determine whether a new school is needed.

"I don't think this is one where we want to cause a rift with the Legislature," said Miguel DeGrandy, a board member and former legislator. "We have to pick our fights carefully. It's not, in my opinion, the one to take a stand on."

Four years ago, the group's predecessor, the Board of Regents, dealt with a similar issue when it rejected FSU's request to open a new medical school. But the Legislature overruled its decision and opened the nation's first new public medical school in two decades.

Then it abolished the Regents.

In 2002, Florida voters created the Board of Governors to oversee 260,000 students at 11 public universities.

"Before we pull the pistol with the few bullets we have, we have to be sure this is the bullet we want to pull," board member Steve Uhlfelder said.

[Last modified May 28, 2004, 01:00:27]

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