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Regents wring hands at role as lame ducks

The chairman says he supports the Legislature's goal of dissolving the board by 2003.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- In their first meeting since Florida lawmakers marked them for extinction, members of the state Board of Regents talked Wednesday about whether they should fight back.

It was a short and decidedly odd conversation.

University system Chancellor Adam Herbert refused to even participate, declining an invitation to comment.

Regents chairman Tom Petway, the board's leader, declared the entire discussion inappropriate. He said later that he supports the Legislature's goal of eliminating the regents by 2003.

Jon Moyle, a longtime regent from West Palm Beach, declared himself completely confused.

"I think we should work diligently and feverishly to convince the Legislature to reauthorize the Board of Regents," he said. "Shouldn't we work to preserve the system we have?"

But nobody seemed certain whether that was even possible. And only a few regents seemed to care.

The legislation that abolishes the regents calls for the creation of a transition commission that will determine how power should be transferred to a new state Board of Education. The new board would then govern all aspects of Florida's education system.

Regent Phil Lewis proposed forming a committee to lobby the transition commission. That had Moyle's backing.

But Steven Uhlfelder, the regent who fought hardest to save the board that has run Florida's university system since 1965, said such an exercise would be pointless.

The best thing the regents can do, he said, is work with the transition group to try to salvage the best elements of the current structure.

"I don't like losing, but the question is what role we should play now," said Uhlfelder, who has suggested putting the regents out of business as soon as possible to minimize administrative disruption.

"We should be constructive," he said. "The game is over."

The regents' future came before lawmakers this year because Florida voters in 1998 approved a constitutional amendment that eliminated an elected education commissioner. Instead, the amendment gave the governor the authority to appoint a seven-member board of education.

Bush has yet to say whether he will sign the bill abolishing the regents.

But Petway is a close friend of Bush, and it seems unlikely he would publicly favor his own board's eradication if there was any chance of a veto.

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