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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rick Scott working overtime to make Florida less appealing

From the Sun Sentinel's editorial board

Is Gov. Rick Scott trying to make Florida less appealing to top-notch research professors? Because he seems to be working overtime to get the job accomplished.

There is his idea — based on what is being done in Texas by Gov. Rick Perry — to base some tenure decisions on student ratings of a professor's effectiveness, along with the number of students that professor has taught.

Then there was the governor's decision to post the salaries of professors at public universities online, in what one has to conclude was an obvious attempt to have the public question whether the professors are worth their pay.

Gov. Scott has also said the state should spend less on education programs that aren't related to current workforce demands — he particularly singled out anthropology. He said more money and time should be spent on fields like technology and engineering and math.

The fact is, University of Florida President Bernie Machen, among others, has said that eliminating tenure would threaten UF's recruitment of faculty. That is hardly a way to keep Florida's universities competitive with the rest of the country.

The posting salaries of backfired on Gov. Scott, too. He claimed it was simply a matter of transparency, not politics. But it turns out the average salary of full-time professors in Florida — about $80,879 — is about $6,000 below the national average, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Yes, the salaries are public record, but the only thing transparent about putting them online in such an abrupt, unexplained way is the attempt to sway public opinion about overpaid professors.

As for Gov. Scott's ideas about what subjects students should be studying, the American Anthropological Association responded by questioning whether the governor understands the contributions to biological and medical research that the anthropology field has made.

Now, whether one agrees with the governor's positions on these individual issues is not the point. Certainly, the public needs to know how we spend faculty pay money, and whether across-the-board tenure is feasible. And it's worth scrutinizing whether universities are properly prioritizing academic disciplines.

Our beef with the governor is this: He's throwing out ideas and making decisions without fully thinking them through.

An example: When the governor visited the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board last month, we pressed him on the tenure issue. We pointed out that unlike Silicon Valley or North Carolina's Research Triangle Park or the Austin region in Texas, Florida's university enclaves haven't matured into world-class research centers. Eroding tenure, we said, could undermine our ability to attract professors needed to build our own hubs.

The governor's answer? He threw up his hands and immediately conceded, "Then we don't do it."

In his inability to defend his position, the governor displayed a disturbing lack of depth on the very issues he is raising. He simply isn't thinking them through.

Florida's state university system needs reform, and modernization. But that can't be done with half-baked measures.,0,3151332.story

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