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Chancellor won't stay, colleagues say

Adam Herbert is said to see no future for himself as a subordinate in an overhauled state education system.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


The Republican-led overhaul of Florida's education system appears likely to force out university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, who has told colleagues he would have little authority and no reason to stay.

Herbert, arguably the state's most prominent black Republican, has no interest in going from a chief executive to a subordinate, say people who have talked with him.

"There could not have have been a more direct slap to him than the one that was delivered," says Dennis Ross, Herbert's friend and a former chairman of the state Board of Regents.

"He would lose just about every power he has," says Tom Healy, the university system's vice chancellor for government affairs.

Herbert, 57, has said several times that he opposes many of the changes being proposed for Florida's education system, which include the elimination of the state Board of Regents. But he refuses to answer questions about his own situation.

"The chancellor has never publicly discussed his future plans, and he doesn't intend to do that now," said Keith Goldschmidt, his spokesman.

That hasn't stopped speculation, much of which has focused on whether Herbert was betrayed by the Republican leaders who were among his strongest supporters when he was named chancellor three years ago.

One is John Thrasher, a friend from Herbert's days in Jacksonville. As speaker of the Florida House, Thrasher pushed through the legislation that likely will restructure Herbert out of a job.

He wouldn't comment on Herbert's situation.

Another is Gov. Jeb Bush. He selected Herbert to serve as his transition director, and enlisted his support for "One Florida," the controversial plan that banned consideration of race in university admissions and state contracting.

Bush did not answer a request for comment.

Colleagues, many of them Democrats, are convinced Herbert was blind-sided. They point to an escalating series of snubs over the past 18 months.

There was the governor's surprise veto of a tuition increase, announced -- to Herbert's embarrassment -- just as the regents were about to rubber-stamp it at a meeting.

There was the Legislature's decision to create a new medical college at Florida State University, and new law schools at Florida A&M University and Florida International University, over Herbert's strong objections.

"The need for a chancellor, at least in its current capacity, clearly has been eliminated," says regent Jim Heekin, an Orlando attorney.

"The problem is, there is a road map for change, and Adam isn't on it," says regent Steven Uhlfelder, a Tallahassee lawyer.

A task force dominated by Republicans is designing a new governance structure to oversee education from kindergarten through post-graduate work. By law, it must be implemented no later than January 2003.

The most recent draft recommendations indicate most of the chancellor's responsibilities, including program evaluation, presidential hiring and lobbying efforts, will be shifted to new entities.

Many will go to an appointed commissioner of education, described in draft documents as the state's "education czar." The chancellor would serve as "staff," responsible for administrative functions, technical assistance and "other services related to customer satisfaction."

Uhlfelder is one of several people who said they were told Herbert has been approached about the commissioner of education job, a position that will be held by Charlie Crist through 2002. After that, the job shifts from elected to appointed, with Florida's governor making the choice.

All said Herbert appears to have little interest.

"I think he is more interested in an academic position," Uhlfelder says. Herbert has said he was never happier than when he was president of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, a job he held for 10 years before becoming chancellor.

Katie Baur, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush, says she is unaware of any discussions with Herbert, official or otherwise, concerning the commissioner's job.

"We're just too early in the ballgame for that," she says.

Even if Herbert wanted to stay on as chancellor, the logistics could be difficult.

Herbert earns a base salary of $264,000, with a $20,000 housing allowance and $32,000 salary stipend. That is almost double the pay package of community colleges director David Armstrong, who would be Herbert's equal under the new scheme.

Jay Berger, a partner in a California executive search firm, has been a friend of Herbert's since their college days at the University of Southern California. He says he hasn't spoken to him recently, but has been following his difficulties in Florida.

He says there is no doubt that if Herbert is job-hunting, he will be in considerable demand.

"He had a good run as chancellor, albeit a brief one, and was president of a growing university for 10 years," Berger says. "I don't know how anyone wouldn't consider him an attractive candidate."

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