Bush wants limits on new colleges
By BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he supports a proposal that would make it much harder for state lawmakers to create expensive university programs, including law or medical schools.
"The Legislature's role would still be important, but more clearly defined," Bush said during a meeting with the state's university presidents, who gathered to talk about the planned overhaul of higher education in Florida.
The governor's comments came one day after a state task force completed its recommendations for the restructuring.
Among its final additions was a requirement that lawmakers secure a two-thirds majority vote before approving major programs without the okay of the new state Board of Education. The restriction also would apply to the establishment of new universities.
Phil Handy, the task force's chairman, said the requirement was designed to answer critics who say the new governance structure, which abolishes the state Board of Regents, would result in increased legislative meddling.
If the restriction had been in effect last year, it might have prevented lawmakers from establishing two new law schools and a new medical college over the regents' objections.
It certainly would have hindered state Sen. Don Sullivan's effort to convert the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus into an independent school. That attempt failed on the session's last day.
University of Florida President Charles Young asked Bush whether the Legislature, which must agree to the change, would willingly give up some of its power.
"I don't know. It might be tough," Bush said. "But there would still be ample opportunity for the lawmakers to have input."
The most important critic of the proposed changes, which would divide the regents' power between the Board of Education and new boards of trustees at each university, is U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. If the overhaul is approved, he has promised to force a ballot initiative in 2002 that would give voters a chance to restore the regents.
In a statement Tuesday, Graham said millions of Floridians "do not want to see scarce resources wasted because of political competition in the Legislature, nor do they want to risk politicians intruding into academic freedom to gain jobs, personal power or political advantage."
The presidents, however, told Bush the last thing they want is more uncertainty, which is what they would get if Graham succeeds in forcing a vote.
The presidents said they want to move forward with the changes as soon as possible.
"If this drags out, we're going to have chaos," said Anthony Catanese, the president of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. "The regents' staff is almost gone. The regents themselves are in a tough position. We need to get this started."
Several presidents said their institutions would be ready to operate under the new system by July 1, the starting date recommended by the state task force.
That deadline would present a daunting task for Bush, who would have less than five months to name 97 appointees to fill the new boards. He said it isn't impossible, but that he is more concerned with doing it right than doing it quickly.
The presidents, who have definite ideas about what they want in a board, said they are eager to help.
Modesto Maidique, the president of Florida International University in Miami, said he wants trustees who understand their role: to support the university, and to hire and fire the president.
"The president must function as the university's CEO," he said. If board members aren't happy with a president's leadership, he said, they can always get rid of him.
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From the Times state desk
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