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We don't need no dadgum higher ed

By Howard Troxler, Times Columnist
Published February 21, 2008


If they're unhappy, maybe they should turn over the reins to someone else.

Gov. Charlie Crist, on the state's university presidents

Here's my proposal for an amendment to the Florida Constitution:

Let's tie the budget for college sports in Florida to the state's rank in money spent on, you know, actual college education.

"We're Dead Last, And We're Proud!" the Gator cheerleaders could chant then.

"We're happy with our 1-10 record," coach Bowden at FSU could say, "because at least, dadgummit, we cost less than Mississippi."

Well? That's exactly what we're saying about academics.

Florida's state universities are in trouble, folks.

They are in a bind. They need you to know it. They need the governor to know it. They need the Legislature to know it.

They cannot give the sons and daughters of Florida the education they deserve. They cannot even admit enough.

They do not have enough teachers to teach them - we have the worst ratio of students to faculty members in the nation. Yaaaaaaaay Florida!

Florida ranks last in tuition support among the states. It ranks near the bottom in tax dollars spent. It ranks 46th in the production of bachelor's degrees. Some of our schools are laying off because of budget cuts. Admissions are frozen or reduced. Talented professors are starting to leave.

Here is the answer of Florida's politicians to all this:

Yeeeeeeeeh-hah! Book learnin' is overrated, y'all.

The governor, a product of Florida State University's law school, was asked about the complaints of the university presidents by my colleagues at the Buzz, our political blog.

After suggesting that the presidents should quit, the always cheerful governor added that, after all, "Things are pretty good in Florida. We have it pretty darn good here."

There ya go! Just keep saying, "pretty darn good," close your eyes and click your heels.

Meanwhile, the president of the state Senate, Ken Pruitt, has developed a weird obsession with keeping the universities in a condition that is the educational equivalent of barefoot and pregnant.

Pruitt's concern is not about quality, but about sheer political power, and which body - the Legislature, or the state Board of Governors - will control tuition.

Pruitt now even wants to amend the state Constitution. He wants to re-create the elected position of state education commissioner (which the voters abolished a decade ago), and return unquestioned power over tuition to the Legislature.

In the first place, these are two wildly different issues that should not be crammed into the same amendment.

In the second place, the voters already settled this in 2002, when they approved the Board of Governors to run the university system.

This is the future of Florida at stake, y'all. I do not mean to set K-12 education against higher ed, but while K-12 has gotten an awful lot of attention, we have been complacent about the universities.

But if this state is going to be anything other than a fast-food restaurant, more than tourist attractions and condos and low-paying service jobs, this is the only way out.

If the governor is too busy running for vice president to care, and the Senate president is busy pluckin' his banjo, then is there anyone who will step up? Marco? Are you there? Alex? Anybody?

[Last modified February 20, 2008, 23:32:16]

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