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Schools press for local control

The presidents of Florida's 10 universities want each school to be regulated by local boards after the Board of Regents is disbanded.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


Speaking for all of Florida's university presidents, Modesto Maidique told a state task force Tuesday that he and his colleagues want to be governed by local boards of trustees once the Board of Regents is abolished.

Maidique, the president of Florida International University in Miami, said the local boards should have the power to fire presidents who don't meet their standards, and to hire replacements.

"I personally want to be hired and fired by someone who knows what I'm doing," said Maidique, who said his comments reflected a consensus reached by the presidents during a meeting last week.

This is new ground for Florida's university leaders, who have said little about the particulars of the plan to eliminate the regents except to object loudly when it was proposed by state lawmakers.

That strategy changed at Tuesday's meeting of the Education Governance Reorganization Task Force in Miami. Maidique said the presidents now want to work closely with the 11-member panel, which is devising a plan to overhaul Florida's entire education system, from kindergarten to postgraduate work.

He said, for example, that the presidents have decided to oppose the creation of a statewide coordinating body that some experts say would help prevent turf battles between increasingly independent universities.

That stance seems to be a rather abrupt about-face. Last month, the regents released a report that said all 10 presidents support the creation of such a board.

But the new position is right in line with the task force's thinking.

Maidique said there were things the presidents couldn't say until it was clear the regents were going out of business, which now appears likely to happen in July.

Maidique's conciliatory message was a welcome surprise for the task force, which saw the presidents as the only real impediment to their efforts to decentralize higher education governance.

"Wow. Say it again. That's great," said Phil Handy, the task force chairman.

Former House Speaker John Thrasher, a member of the task force, asked Maidique about the comments of E.T. York, the former university system chancellor who thinks the regents are being eliminated because they refused to approve the pet projects of state lawmakers.

As evidence, York has cited the board's recent opposition to a new medical school at Florida State University and to new law colleges at FIU and Florida A&M University.

All were eventually approved by lawmakers, anyway.

Maidique said his view was more "evolutionary" than the former chancellor's.

When the regents were created 35 years ago, Florida had two large universities and several new ones trying to find their footing, he said.

Now, by most measures, the state has one national-class research institution in the University of Florida, and three others moving quickly in that direction.

"Each of those universities has become so complex they need their own boards," said Maidique, who said the regents were being asked to do too much.

The task force, which will resume its meeting this morning, has until March 1 to submit its final recommendations to the Legislature, which has the final say over the higher education reorganization.

But some likely elements are becoming clear.

The task force is expected to recommend that each university be allowed to set its own tuition and fees, and to create new undergraduate and master's degree programs without seeking state permission. The universities also would get to decide which faculty members deserve tenure.

The authority for such decisions would lie with the university boards, nine-member bodies that would be appointed by the governor. Above them would be a seven-member state Board of Education.

Under draft recommendations circulated by the task force, the state board would have final authority over the hiring and firing of presidents, though the local boards could submit up to three nominees.

University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft was at last week's meeting of the presidents. Her spokesman, Jack Wheat, said she does not support the regents' elimination.

But if it is to happen, he said, Genshaft would prefer governing authority be moved as close to the university level as possible.

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