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Monday, July 18, 2011

Education and inovation just aren't important to Florida's leaders

From's opinion page

How ironic. At the very time when Florida is trying to figure out how to be a major player in the emerging global knowledge-based economy — an economy that transcends borders and barriers — the State University System’s Board of Governors intends to put the state universities into little jurisdictional boxes.

In the University of Florida’s case, that box would encompass 13 largely rural North Central Florida counties.

If UF wanted to venture beyond its box — say, to go into academic partnership with a state college or to assist a business enterprise elsewhere in the state — it would be required to jump through bureaucratic hoops and to beg permission from another state university.

So much for encouraging state universities to be fast, flexible and creative in meeting Florida’s workforce and economic development challenges.

UF President Bernie Machen is understandably unhappy with the board’s decision to move ahead with setting operational regions for the universities.

The Board of Governors opts for institutional protectionism when it should be freeing the universities to do what’s necessary to make Florida a player in the global economy. Whichever university can best move Florida forward toward being a cutting-edge institution of learning and innovation in the 21st century should be given ever chance to do so, without having to kowtow to other universities or bureaucrats.

Regionalizing higher education represents exactly a sort of small-minded bureaucratic thinking that runs counter to the notion that competition in the public sector, just as in business, stimulates creative thinking and economic activity.

Ocala proudly boasts sitting in the center of a so-called “research triangle” of UF, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. Imagine if it had an opportunity to benefit from expanding its relationship with UCF, which already offers courses at the College of Central Florida’s University Center, but had to get permission from UF and the Board of Governors. It is simply cumbersome and nonsensical.

And it is also foolish for the Board of Governors to pretend that UF does not have — has not always had — a statewide mission, as evident by its far-flung agricultural research operations, including in Marion County. The board now says such operations are exempted. Also, it is backpedaling to an extent on regionalization, generally, but not convincingly.

In any case, the timing is bad. UF’s mission is increasingly taking on national, and even global, aspects — something Marion County would love to be part of.

Keeping universities boxed up and isolated from one another will ultimately make Florida less economically competitive. Institutional containment is the enemy of innovation.

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