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Education

Meet the opposition to chiropractic school

Raymond Bellamy is the perfect foil for the controversial plan at FSU.

By RON MATUS
Published January 27, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - The room is quiet, but Raymond Bellamy raises his voice. The trim doctor with the Hall-of-Fame tennis serve isn't here to make friends.

Hours earlier, Florida State University had named its medical school building after John Thrasher, a former House speaker and chairman of the FSU board of trustees.

Now trustees are fidgeting before a packed house, preparing to vote on a $60-million chiropractic school Bellamy says is being forced on his alma mater by politicians like Thrasher.

At the podium, Bellamy, 64, holds up a photograph of his late grandfather, an FSU sociology professor who has a campus building named after him.

Then he slams his point home: "In those days, buildings were named after great educators."

Thrasher doesn't blink, but others say oooooh in their heads.

Bellamy is playing to win.

On the tennis court, Bellamy is a former FSU team captain who has been ranked near the top 10 nationally in his age group. He is known for an attack-the-net style.

Against the chiropractic school, the same killer instinct is on display.

"I want them to be so bruised, they never bring this thing up again," he says.

Bellamy is more than the face of the opposition. In large part, he is the opposition.

Two months ago, the chiropractic school was cruising to reality, supported by Thrasher, FSU President T.K. Wetherell and legislative leaders. Now its future is uncertain. Many observers think the state Board of Governors will kill the school when it meets in Gainesville today or, at best, return the proposal to FSU where angry faculty are eager to snuff it.

Bellamy is a big reason for the change.

"I think galvanizing would be the word," says FSU chemistry professor Alan Marshall.

Before the chiropractic issue flared up, Bellamy was an orthopedic surgeon, an assistant professor in the FSU medical school and a quiet Tallahassee insider. His late wife, Carol Bellamy, was a city commissioner in the 1980s. And he was connected enough to be appointed to the state Environmental Protection Commission by then-Gov. Bob Graham.

Bellamy says he didn't take a public stand on chiropractic until the Legislature funded the school in the spring. He didn't like it, but colleagues told him, "Forget it, it's done."

Months later, a St. Petersburg Times story noted Gov. Jeb Bush's concern with the unusual funding arrangement, crafted by Sen. Jim King, an FSU graduate, which gave the school $9-million a year in perpetuity.

Bellamy said to himself, "This didn't have as much ooomph as everybody thought."

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, he tapped out a three-paragraph e-mail to the biology department.

It was like flicking a match into a lake of gasoline.

"Within 15 minutes, I'm getting responses," Bellamy says. "And they're all, "Yeaaaaahh! You're right! This is a stupid idea."'

* * *

For this fight, Bellamy may have the perfect combination of credentials.

He's outsider enough to hurl grenades without fear of repercussions to his livelihood. He's insider enough to shield himself against charges that he's out to hurt FSU.

As an FSU undergraduate, Bellamy was a star tennis player, later inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. His mother graduated from FSU, as did two aunts, a brother, a son, a daughter and a son-in-law. His stepdaughter attends FSU now.

Those ties fuel his campaign.

"I don't want to see this university ruined," he says.

Soon after Bellamy roused the biology faculty, e-mails were zipping to and from other departments - psychology, neuroscience, math, physics. Bellamy "tapped a reservoir of opposition," says biology professor Walter Tschinkel.

Then he put himself out front.

He gathered petitions, convinced powerful FSU alumni to write critical letters and became unofficial spokesman for the cause. He gave reporters his pager number.

"My strategy was, the more press, the better," he says.

In late December, Bellamy blasted a flurry of e-mails to the Times. Buried within: Notes from professors who said they would quit if FSU built a chiropractic school. Also included: a parody map of campus that showed the proposed school near a Bigfoot Institute and Crop Circle Simulation Lab.

The story circulated nationwide.

In interviews, Bellamy has referred to King as "some stupid senator" and criticized most chiropractic care as "gobbledygook." He said the new chiropractic school would be a "Taj Mahal for alternative medicine."

Reporters lapped it up. Supporters fumed.

Lance Armstrong, president of the Florida Chiropractic Association, called Bellamy a "shrill foe of chiropractic." FSU trustee Andy Haggard decried his insults as "shameful."

Other Bellamy targets, including Wetherell and King, did not return calls for comment.

* * *

When Bellamy heard FSU provost Larry Abele might meet with trustees before a crucial vote two weeks ago, he said, "Whoa baby, two can play that game."

He drove to Winter Park to see trustee Manny Garcia and flew to New York City to sit down with trustee David Ford. In Tampa, he met with trustee and Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks in the parking lot of a Burger King. They talked in Brooks' BMW while Brooks' son slept in the back seat.

In the end, the trustees spared the chiropractic school, voting 11-2 to ask the Board of Governors if FSU can continue investigating.

"Cowards," Bellamy fumed.

But the game wasn't over.

In the aftermath, several members of the Board of Governors said they were disappointed with FSU's decision, as did Gov. Bush, who urged board members to "vote their consciences" in Gainesville.

Bellamy will be there, a bottle of champagne in his car.

Ron Matus can be reached at 727 893-8873 or matus@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 27, 2005, 05:35:55]


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