Friday, September 03, 2004

Dave's Dad Published in the Miami Herald

The Rockstar's father, a historian and professor, was published yesterday in the Miami Herald. It is quite illicitly critical of Jeb Bush and the priorities of our country at-large. Read his article below and pray he's not blown away in a hurricane this weekend.

Why are our state universities so badly rated?
This year's edition of U.S. News & World Report's ''America's Best Colleges'' has just been issued. If you look at the top tier of universities, you pass no less than six California universities (Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Barbara) before you come to the only Florida university (out of 10) making the first tier: University of Florida at 50. There is only one public Florida university in the second tier (Florida State University, 111), which is surpassed by two more California universities (Santa Cruz and Riverside). Florida has one school in the third tier (University of South Florida). All the rest -- schools such as University of Central Florida, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University, with 25,000 to 40,000 students each -- are in the unranked fourth tier, on a level comparable to East Tennessee State, Portland State and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. [The University of Miami, a private university, is ranked 53rd.]
What has happened? Florida is a wealthy state. One need but examine the Florida real-estate market with million-dollar houses and condos selling so rapidly. Florida is also one of the four most populous states, one of the fastest growing and with a low unemployment rate. Why are we doing so poorly? Because of an inadequate tax base, an inadequate tuition base and an inadequate record of private fund-raising. Starving our universities into forced mediocrity is surely one of the greatest sins committed by our political leadership.
Best faculty leaving
I just completed a 13-month term on the Board of Governors, the board constitutionally responsible for oversight of our state universities. We have approved two budget requests so far. Both were far below what we needed, but we were advised to be ''realistic,'' and even after approving a much lesser figure than needed, we were told that it would be impossible to get even close to that funding. Thus you find our universities ranked where they are.
What is the result? Students facing classes closed before they are even permitted to register. Universities forced to choose between computer upgrades or hiring needed faculty. Our best faculty leaving for better paying positions out of state.
Students faced with increasing demand that they finish in four years, even though classes are not available, and even though they have to make lifetime decisions (and change majors) as they find their vocations, a choice not often apparent to a late adolescent. And a terrible proposal to close the universities to nondegree-seeking students by charging them prohibitive out-of-state tuition, thus denying them the opportunity to further themselves intellectually or career wise.
There is an answer to this dilemma, an opportunity to give our students the universities they deserve, to take the classes they need and to find their way through to successful careers.
The Florida Council of 100, a nonprofit organization that advises the governor on key Florida issues from a business perspective, showed the way to inject $366 million into the system as well as an additional $120 million in financial aid, at the cost only of bringing our in-state tuition up to national standards (we are currently near the bottom) and putting reasonable limits on Bright Futures Scholarships, often a middle-class entitlement.
Hard decision
The Board of Governors, which has declared that it is responsible for tuition and fee policies, has the constitutional power to implement 95 percent of the recommendations. And we know it is unlikely to be done anywhere but by this board, shielded as it properly is from political pressures, as Proposition 11, which created the board, intended.
The keys to making the state's universities among the nation's best are in the hands of the board members. Hard decisions lie ahead. I hope that the board will give Floridians the universities that they deserve.
Howard B. Rock, a professor of history at Florida International University, served on the Florida Board of Governors, 2003-2004.


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