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Board of Governors seeks a stronger role
It wants "compacts" with all 11 universities.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 6, 2007
ORLANDO - The board charged with overseeing Florida's 11 public universities, already embroiled in a lawsuit against the Legislature, is moving once again to exert its constitutional authority.
But the target this time is the universities themselves, and the approach is more velvet glove than iron fist.
The Board of Governors wants to create "compacts" with each university, outlining in detail short-term and very measurable goals for benchmarks like graduation rates, retention and research grants.
"The board is charged with defining the mission of the universities, and this is a way to do so," said Board of Governors spokesman Bill Edmonds. "We don't want the universities to run on autopilot. It's a way for the board to have more control of how each university goes forward."
It's standard for colleges, including the University of South Florida, to create their own long-term "strategic plans" for improvement, but individual boards of trustees - not the Board of Governors - help craft and approve the plans.
The compacts would give the Governors a more direct say in how universities move forward from year to year. It's also a way for the Board of Governors to try to prevent the intense politicking and competition that have marked universities' relationships with each other over the years.
"The idea is, let's work out these goals, come to an agreement, and not be as competitive with each other," Edmonds said. "Right now the board has a strategic plan, and the individual universities have their own plans, and they tend not to match up. The hope is, this makes it easier for, say, USF president Judy Genshaft, to do her job. And then the BOG can relax a bit."
Chancellor Mark Rosenberg is looking to states like North Carolina and Texas as models for the compacts.
The University of Texas System's 15 institutions have been doing compacts since 2003, though the planning mechanism started at the University of Texas in the 1990s, said Geri Malandra, the UT System's vice chancellor for strategic management.
Malandra said the compacts' specificity and narrow focus help universities to focus their priorities and resources for the betterment of the individual institution and the entire system.
"Before there were compacts, there were different sorts of generic strategic plans, and frankly, they weren't very helpful," she said. "The compact as we have defined it is intended to answer a pretty simple question: What are the chief priorities for the next 18 to 24 months. And then later we can see, did you achieve it?"
Chancellor Rosenberg's proposal comes as the Board of Governors awaits a judge's ruling on its lawsuit against the Legislature. The board, created by voters in 2002, maintains it has the constitutional power to set tuition. The Legislature argues it has that authority because it creates the state budget each year, and tuition factors into that.
The lawsuit has raised tensions between the governors and leading lawmakers, but it remains to be seen how university presidents will respond to a required compact.
They meet with the Board of Governors today in Orlando.