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    College system leader resigns

    Chancellor Adam Herbert opposed changes proposed for Florida's universities, which also would sap his authority.

    By DIANE RADO and SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Adam Herbert, who rose to become one of the most prominent African-Americans in higher education, resigned Friday after a tumultuous three years as chancellor of Florida's massive university system.

    Herbert, 57, navigated through some of the toughest issues to face Florida's 10 public universities, including a politically charged overhaul that soon will eviscerate Herbert's job and, he has said, hurt the university system as a whole.

    "It is now clear that we are going into a different stage in the life of the state university system," Herbert said in a letter to Thomas F. Petway III, chairman of the Board of Regents, which oversees the university system.

    "As I do each year, over the past month I have considered the question of whether my professional priorities and personal interests continue to make me an appropriate match for the tasks that lie ahead.

    "After a great deal of reflection," Herbert wrote, "I have concluded that it is time for me to return to Jacksonville and the University of North Florida," where he served as president for almost a decade before accepting the chancellor's post in January 1998.

    His exact job has not yet been decided, but Herbert wrote that he looks forward to being a mentor and role model for inner-city high school students. His resignation takes effect March 2.

    Gov. Jeb Bush, who picked Herbert to lead his transition in 1998, said he was saddened by Herbert's departure.

    "His expertise, strong commitment and dedication to education are just a few of the reasons why I will continue to seek his advice as he moves on to his new position," Bush said in a written statement.

    Petway also praised Herbert.

    "He not only is an intellectual giant but also a man of honor and integrity," Petway said. "The entire board and I are pleased he will remain within the state university system."

    Herbert met with Bush on Friday morning and announced the resignation to his staff at 4:15 p.m. His spokesman said he would not comment beyond his resignation letter and a written statement.

    Herbert, the first African-American to lead Florida's university system, grew up in modest, segregated Muskogee, Okla., and earned an academic scholarship to attend college. He has a doctorate in public affairs and public administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked in the Ford administration and at Florida International University in Miami, before going to Jacksonville.

    In the Capitol, the 6-foot-4 Herbert was an imposing figure with a reserved but commanding presence. He is credited with coaxing bigger budgets out of state and federal lawmakers; for persuading university presidents to accept distinct missions; and for rigorous reviews of academic programs.

    He will leave behind a system scarred by political turmoil largely created outside of his control.

    "If he was in the military, he would have gotten combat pay," said Regent Steven Uhlfelder, a Tallahassee lawyer.

    "I think Adam was an academic purist. I think the world we live in is not that pure. It was hard to balance politics and academics."

    Herbert's rocky road began before he even took over on Jan. 20, 1998. In December 1997, University of Florida President John Lombardi called Herbert an "Oreo" at a private party. Lombardi apologized, but after further controversy, left the UF presidency at Herbert's request.

    After taking charge, Herbert found himself in political battles.

    He supported Gov. Jeb Bush, a former business partner and fellow Republican, when Bush pushed forward his One Florida initiative that included ending race-based admissions to universities. The plan provoked civil rights marches on the Capitol.

    Herbert opposed the creation of new law schools and a new medical school in Florida, considering them unnecessary. But legislators, including one of his top supporters, House Speaker John Thrasher of Jacksonville, approved them anyway. Herbert also favored a tuition increase for the state's universities, but Bush in 1999 vetoed half of a 10 percent tuition increase approved by the Legislature, a move that surprised the chancellor.

    He and the Board of Regents disagreed with a historic reorganization plan to abolish the regents and set up local boards at each university. Herbert said the overhaul would lead to turf wars that would undermine the system, but he couldn't stop the changes, which Bush also supports.

    The regents weren't surprised Friday by Herbert's resignation, which had been rumored for weeks.

    "He sees the Titanic going down and he didn't want to be the skipper of the ship," said Regent Phil Lewis, a former state Senate president.

    But some had hoped Herbert would remain at the helm of the new system that seeks to link Florida's K-12 school system, public universities and community colleges.

    "We always hoped he'd consider being the (appointed) commissioner of education of the new governance system," said former House Speaker Thrasher. "I think he would have been superb."

    But Herbert wasn't interested in the job, since he opposed the changes. Uhlfelder said some regents encouraged Herbert to consider the UF presidency vacated by Lombardi, but he wasn't interested.

    In a statement that accompanied his resignation letter, Herbert thanked and praised the regents and university presidents and said it was an honor to serve as chancellor.

    "The privilege of serving the people of Florida in this capacity," he wrote, "has been one for which I will always be grateful."

    The regents said Friday that Herbert's replacement is likely to be someone already in the university system, such as Judy Hample, a vice chancellor.

    As chancellor, Herbert earned a base salary of $264,000, with a $20,000 housing allowance and $32,000 salary stipend.

    With the Board of Regents soon to be eliminated, it would be difficult to attract an outside candidate, said Regent Elizabeth Lindsay of Sarasota.

    "No one is looking to Florida's education system as a place to find long-term employment," she said.

    Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, president of Florida State University, said he was not surprised by Herbert's departure after talking with him at the Orange Bowl game Wednesday night.

    "He never said it was a result of the governance changes," D'Alemberte said Friday night. "He said he really loved Jacksonville and never enjoyed Tallahassee and all the politics."

    D'Alemberte said that Herbert had been an active university president while he lived in Jacksonville, serving as head of the chamber of commerce and helping land the NFL's Jaguars.

    "When he came to Tallahassee," D'Alemberte said, "he got a dose of 100-proof politics."

    - Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.

    Adam Herbert's tenure

    Adam Herbert was considered a close ally of Gov. Jeb Bush. But the governor and the Republican-run Legislature ignored his advice on at least two big issues. He began telling friends last month that he saw no reason to stay on because a GOP-led reorganization of higher education would probably leave him without much authority.

    Here is a chronology:

    1989-98: President of the University of North Florida.

    December 1997: University of Florida President John Lombardi calls Herbert, then a contender for the chancellor's post, an "Oreo." Lombardi later apologizes and survives after an uproar, but he leaves his job in 1999 as Herbert was preparing a Lombardi job evaluation.

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