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    Bush lectures university leaders

    The governor delivers some tips and directives to the state's university trustees. Not everyone is favorably impressed.

    By BARRY KLEIN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 26, 2001


    MIAMI -- Gov. Jeb Bush told Florida's university trustees Wednesday that one of their primary duties will be to protect academic freedom.

    Sooner or later, he told them, someone is going to say or do something on their campus they consider controversial or offensive.

    "The first temptation is to say, 'Man, that's really stupid. That's going to hurt our chances to get funding from the Legislature,' " Bush said.

    Resist the temptation to pop off, he warned. It's a mistake.

    "We should have diverse views on our campus, and they should be protected," Bush said.

    That tip was one of several the governor gave to his appointees, who assembled for a daylong tutorial on their rights and responsibilities as members of Florida's newest governing boards.

    Almost two-thirds of the 132 people Bush appointed are either lawyers or business people. Only two dozen can be characterized as academics.

    After listening to Bush's speech, the leader of Florida's faculty union questioned the governor's sincerity. United Faculty of Florida president Rosie Webb Joells said his call to protect academic freedom was little more than "lip service."

    She noted that Bush was silent several months ago when a brouhaha broke out at Florida Atlantic University over the staging of Corpus Christi, a play that features a Christ-like figure who is homosexual.

    State Education Commissioner Charlie Crist called the play a "wasteland entirely unmoored from standards."

    But the governor said nothing, Joells said. "His silence was deafening."

    The trustees were more appreciative of the governor's advice. They greeted his remarks with a standing ovation.

    The rest of their day was considerably more mundane.

    There were discussions about fiduciary responsibilities and budget guidelines. There was an overview of their considerable powers, which include hiring and firing their university president and creating new degree programs.

    The sessions were led by officials with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a non-profit, educational group that was paid $5,000 for its work. The council's board includes former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

    The speakers were clearly trying to encourage the trustees to take bold action, even if that meant contradicting the governor.

    "Academic freedom should not be a conversation stopper," said Bradford Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, a conservative group dedicated to an "informed understanding of the Western intellectual heritage."

    If something offensive happens on a college campus, Wilson told the trustees, "you have a right to ask questions and criticize."

    "There is not enough discussion about what is proper in our academic institutions," he said.

    Several scenarios were presented to illustrate the difficulties in determining appropriate trustee behavior:

    Should a trustee ask to attend presidential staff meetings? No, the officials said. That leads to micro-managing.

    Can trustees suggest specific changes to a university's core curricula? Sure, they said. The trustees are responsible for a university's academic quality.

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