Task force weighing greater role for Board of Governors in hiring university presidents

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A blue-ribbon task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott is likely to recommend giving the Florida Board of Governors more power in the selection of university presidents, a move that could spark a power struggle between the statewide panel and the boards that oversee individual universities, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Much of the focus on the task force has been about what its recommendations will mean for universities’ power to raise tuition and the group’s thoughts on funding for higher education. But the role of individual boards of trustees in the selection of presidents, and whether that authority could be curtailed, could cause a legislative battle of its own.

As of now, the wording of the report is relatively vague. It says only: “Ensure that the Board of Governors has direct involvement in the search and appointment of university presidents.”

At the core of the proposal is a problem task force members have wrestled with as they have worked to shape a final report: How to make universities follow the guidance of the State University System and its strategic plan instead of responding chiefly to parochial concerns.

Members of the panel also want to cut back on the incentives for university presidents to pursue their own goals through the Legislature, essentially bypassing the Board of Governors.

“As long as they don’t have to fear the Board of Governors, you’re going to continue to have those end runs,” outgoing House Education Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said during one of the task force’s recent teleconferences.

Unmentioned by task force members was the struggle that ensued earlier in the year, when the Board of Governors grew alarmed about questions over the leadership of then-Florida A&M University President James Ammons in the wake of an alleged hazing death that sparked a series of investigations.

Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson sent a letter also raising concerns about graduation rates, allegedly fraudulent audit summaries presented to trustees; sexual assault against a minor at the institution’s Developmental Research School; and how students not enrolled at FAMU ended up in the band in the first place.

While Colson raised the prospect of action if the FAMU Board of Trustees did nothing, Ammons eventually resigned.

Any push to more fully insert the governors into the presidential selection process is likely to meet opposition from some lawmakers and perhaps the boards of trustees. One of the key proponents of removing the Board of Governors from the selection of university presidents was Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican scheduled to take over as Senate president in a few weeks.

Florida State University Board of Trustees chairman Allan Bense said board members are awaiting the task force’s final report, but some have raised concerns over any suggestion that university presidents be chosen by the Board of Governors and not local trustees.

“The Legislature, of course, will ultimately decide,” the former House Speaker said.”That was clearly kicked around but the sentiment is, let’s just wait and see what the final draft is and we can make more comments at that time.”

The task force’s report is due by Nov. 15, but members hope to approve a final draft Nov. 6.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.