Major higher-ed news in Florida

During break and in the last week, higher-education news in Florida has been dominated by the budget crunch and by Senate President Ken Pruitt proposal’s to strip the Board of Governors of its constitutional authority, replacing that authority with whatever is delegated by the legislature.

Higher education governance

The proposal by the senate (SJR 2308) would place a measure on the fall ballot to shrink the size of the Board of Governors and replace its constitutional authority to govern the university system with whatever the legislature delegates.

The universally-accepted explanation for this is that Senate President Pruitt is upset that the Board of Governors wants to exercise authority over tuition, because increasing tuition to replace cuts from the state budgets would force the legislature to restructure Bright Futures, the scholarship program that is funded partly by the lottery and party by the state budget. It is that latter part (the state budget) and Senator Pruitt’s investment of time in and identity with Bright Futures that is motivating the proposed amendment.

The amendment is sailing through Senate committees because Senator Pruitt combined the higher-education governance change with something that Senate Democrats wanted, a return to an elected education commissioner for the state.

Right now, the proposal’s status is uncertain; while it moved through one committee on the House side, UFF officials know of several House Republicans who have either voted against it in committee or voiced reservations. The proposal would need 60% of each house in the legislature to go on the ballot; that means 72 votes in the House, and there are 77 Republicans. If a small number of Republicans join all House Democrats in opposing the proposal, it dies…

Thus far, the opponents of higher-education governance change include UFF, the Association of Faculty Senate Presidents, the Board of Governors, the (business-oriented) Council of 100, and every single newspaper editorial board that has written on the topic. USF’s Faculty Senate joined that list this week, and most of the system’s presidents (including USF President Judy Genshaft) have voiced extraordinary concerns about a third round of governance change this decade.

Because most of the dirty work of the legislature happens in swaps between the two leaders of the houses in the last few days, the greatest chance for passage is in one of those swaps.

Florida’s budget

In the first week of the session, the university system’s base budget was cut 1.9%, the second cut this year. The budget woes continue, with estimates that the legislature will cut more than $2 billion in the next budget. K-12 and higher education represent more than 50% of general revenue expenditures in Florida, and since the majority Republicans in the legislature are opposed to any new revenues, they will cut the state’s budget. Both Governor Crist and the Democrats have suggested dipping into the rainy-day fund, given that it’s thundering, but there are no guarantees either that it will happen or that it will be more than a small buffer against the budget tides.

What can we do

The United Faculty of Florida is asking that all members of the bargaining unit use their own resources to contact legislators about the budget and contact their representatives in the state house about higher-education governance, since it is the House that has the greatest chance of blocking governance change from getting on the fall ballot.

The chapter has decided to sponsor drawings for gift cards for faculty and professional employees in the bargaining unit who place letters to the editor during the session or write to their legislators and receive a response on either the budget or higher-education governance. For more, read


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