Almost a decade after it was created the board that oversees the state university system is still working to get its footing. Over the past few months, conflicts and scandals at some of the schools have made state and national headlines. And as Lynn Hatter reports, the board’s chairman says his group should have more authority when it comes to the affairs of Florida’s universities.
Florida’s university system has weathered a rocky road over the past few years. An economic downturn has led to layoffs and program closures. Students are protesting over tuition increases. A battle over a potential 12th university is growing more contentious by the day. And hazing scandals have cropped up at two of the 11 institutions the board oversees. Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson says its time for his group to step up.
“The events of the past year across the system have forced me to better understand the significant responsibility of the board of governors in the Constitution. We must operate, regulate and control and be responsible for the management of the whole university system.”
The Board was created in 2002 through a constitutional amendment. It delegated most of its power to boards of trustees at the universities. But over the past few years, the Board has begun exercising more control and authority—resolving disputes between the schools when they crop up, gaining the ability to approve or reject tuition increases and working to unite the schools—which often have agendas of their own. And Colson says it’s time to reign in some of that power.
“The Board of Governors needs to be engaged when things go bad. We have a bully pulpit and we should use it. And we should not forget that the authority of the constitution was given to us. And we should not hide behind what may have been a too broad delegation of powers to avoid the tough issues.”
When it comes to power, and who is in charge, State Representative Gwendolyn Clarke Reed wanted to know how the board interacts with the governor, and vice versa.
“When incidents happen within our university system… are those incidents discussed with the board and the governor before statements are made before statements are made when certain issues come up? What is the policy?”
To be direct—it was a question about the Governors statements about the FAMU Hazing death of band drum major Robert Champion. The Governor publically advocated for the university’s president to be removed from his post. Scott later received a notice from the university’s accrediting body informing him that if the school acted upon his recommendation, the university would be at risk of losing its accreditation. Here’s Colson:
“If we’re talking about the FAMU situation, I didn’t have any discussion with the governor’s office prior to the FAMU situation. But I do have discussion with him or staff all the time.”
The FAMU Hazing case may be one of the most high-profile issues facing the state’s university system, but it’s not the only one. The Board of Governors has sometimes clashed with university leaders. And when it comes to relationships between the board and the school, Representative Janet Atkins wants to know how the two interact.
“We’ve heard from university presidents and college presidents. You mentioned earlier about the trustees and their role. Can you elaborate more on what you see the role of the trustees to be?”
In some cases the fights are political--like one between the University of South Florida and Senate JD Alexander over a plan to allow USF’s Polytech’s campus to become independent and, perhaps to become the state’s 12th university. Here, Colson talks about how he feels about the role of trustees.
“My view is, you are there to support your president. Evaluate the president. But not micromanage the president. The President is there to run the university. And any good president figures out how to coop the trustees. In my view, they are there to hire and fire presidents, and raise money.”
Colson says he envisions a university system that’s much more unified than it is now.