Hurrah for Stanley Fish

Those are probably words some of you never expected to see me type--I surprised myself a bit--but I would like to thank Stanley Fish for bringing the issue of Florida's funding of its university system to a far wider audience than most anyone else could manage (even though it's behind the Times Select wall). Here's the thrust of his argument, for those of you without access:

But things clarified a bit on July 10 when the board of governors, sometimes called the “somnolent overseers,” woke up and took three actions that amounted to laying down a gauntlet.

First, the board joined Graham’s suit, thereby defying the Legislature. Second, the board voted for a 5 percent tuition increase, thereby defying the governor. Third, the board froze enrollment at current levels, thereby defying everyone, including, potentially, parents with children in high school. Moreover, the board did these things despite warnings issued at the meeting by two state legislators who serve on the House and Senate higher education appropriations committees.

These actions did not come out of the blue. Carolyn K. Roberts, chairwoman of the board, fired a warning shot in an op-ed in The St. Petersburg Times in June. “By every indicator,” she wrote, “Florida falls behind in higher education.”

Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the state university system, brought a “background and options” paper to the July 10 meeting, documenting in detail how bad things are (lowest tuition and highest student-faculty ratio in the country). After their vote, board members braced themselves for a firestorm of criticism. But except for a dyspeptic threat by Senate President Ken Pruitt (“See you in court”) none arrived. Instead, state newspapers published editorials with titles like “At Long Last” and “Universities’ Board Right.”

What does it all mean? The hope is that it means the beginning of the realization of the goal announced in 1980 by Graham, who called for “a thrust for greatness” and the building of a world-class university system.

More easily said than done. At present, as Rosenberg and his board know, Florida is not even in the second tier of university systems in this country. Florida does not have a single campus that measures up to the best schools in the systems of Virginia, Wisconsin and Georgia, nevermind first-tier states like California, Michigan and North Carolina. Climbing that hill will be an arduous task, and the key will be a persistence few states are up to.

The conditions that leave a university system depressed have been a long time in the making and will take time to reverse. Five straight years of steadily increased funding, tuition raises and high-profile faculty hires would send a message that something really serious is happening. Ten more years of the same, and it might actually happen.

Nothing really to add here, other than to say that's he's right, and that I hope the Board of Governors is successful in their efforts. Florida's students and faculty deserve it.

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