Ex-chancellor Reed pulls no punches

He says a meddling Florida Legislature has consigned state universities to mediocrity.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published August 21, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - When Charlie Reed left as chancellor of Florida universities for a similar job in California a decade ago, he exited with his reputation for blunt talk firmly intact.

"Florida has a motto: We're cheap, and we're proud of it," Reed said then.

On Monday, Reed was back in the state where worked for 27 years. His long absence has not tempered his criticism of the system he once headed.

He chastised state leaders for keeping tuition too low and for meddling in how universities are run, steps he said have consigned campuses in Florida to mediocrity.

"You have a lot of work to do," Reed said in a talk to members of the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University.

Florida's Board of Governors for higher education is embroiled in a power struggle with the Legislature over which body has the authority to set tuition at universities.

Reed, who also was chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Bob Graham, sounded as if he longed for the pre-Jeb Bush era when a single Board of Regents oversaw all universities. Under Bush, regents were replaced by the Board of Governors and trustee boards on all campuses.

To truly compare the two mega-states' higher education systems, Reed said, look no further than the two legislatures.

California's higher-education governing structure is largely unchanged since the 1940s and a "compact," or partnership, between legislators and its universities ensures that student growth is funded year after year. In Florida, higher education "gets what's left over," he said.

Reed blasted the Bright Futures scholarship as the dumbest higher education policy he has seen. By giving merit-based scholarships regardless of need, Reed said, Florida bankrolls college careers for students whose families can afford to pay the tuition, leaving too little aid for low-income students.

Among those in audience was Frank Brogan, president of Florida Atlantic University and lieutenant governor alongside Gov. Jeb Bush. Brogan defended Bright Futures as a way to steer lottery money to education, to encourage high school students to get better grades and to keep students from going to college out of state.

"This was not a dumb idea," Brogan said. The much-maligned governance system "is beginning to jell," he added.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.