UF facing big changes in new year
Published: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 2:21 a.m.
Big changes await the University of Florida on its 150th anniversary this year, including a new president, a new board of trustees, a new state governing board for universities and greater local control than past presidents ever dreamed of.
First up will be the selection of UF's board of trustees early this month. Many, if not all of the current trustees, are expected to be reappointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and by the board of governors he appointed last week.
Bush will get six picks and the board of governors five; the remaining two are Faculty Senate President Jean Larson and Student Body President Nikki Fried.
In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment, which Bush strongly opposed, creating a new system to govern the state's 11 universities.
It's unclear how much authority the statewide board will assert over the schools. Bush drew its members from the current boards of trustees at each university, most of which publicly opposed the amendment.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham led the drive to put the amendment on the ballot, saying a statewide board was needed to keep every university from starting up expensive programs already offered elsewhere and to put some distance between politics and the universities.
But the 11 boards of trustees are looking forward to inheriting broad new powers to run their schools on Jan. 7, including authority over academic programs and fiscal and personnel matters, including collective bargaining.
Relations between UF's board of trustees and the various unions on campus have gotten off to a rocky start, with the trustees refusing to recognize any union until a vote of the employees is held.
That's caused some anxiety with employees, including the faculty union, because the current union contracts are set to expire on Jan. 7 - before an election could realistically be held.
In search of a leader
Meanwhile, another change at the top looms, with a search for UF President Charles Young's successor set to start Jan. 30.
Asked how long he expects the search to take, board of trustee Chairman Marshall Criser said: "As long as it takes to get the right person."
Criser said he didn't think lingering uncertainty about the new state university governing structure would hamper the search.
"Now that the board of governors are in place," he said, "prospects will have the opportunity to evaluate that and come to their own conclusions."
It's not yet known what impact the appointment of former House Speaker T.K. Wetherell as president at Florida State University will have on the UF search.
The consultant in that search, Korn-Ferry International, told the search committee that some well-qualified prospects declined to be considered for the job after learning that the politically connected alumnus was to be named a finalist.
The short list of those who did throw their hats in included Wetherell, and two finalists with more prestige in the world of academia: former Ohio State University President Edward Jennings and former UCLA law Dean Susan Prager.
With the increasing importance of political sway in appropriations to state universities, many believe Wetherell, an alumnus and former Tallahassee Community College president, got the job based more on his statehouse and lobbying credentials.
Board of trustees Chairman Criser said whoever the next UF president is, "he or she will have to be someone who can compete in that arena."
That doesn't mean UF's next president should be a politician, Criser said. "It's essential for any public university president in the country to be able to work with the Legislature."
'Vision' for the future
Against this changing backdrop, and as it celebrates its sesquicentennial with a year-long series of events, UF will try to make some headway in implementing its ambitious $73 million strategic plan, "Vision 2010."
The costly class-size reduction amendment voters also passed in November will make it harder for UF to get the Legislature to contribute to the plan's estimated $18 million first-year costs, as will hefty advances lawmakers took from key trust funds to balance last year's budget.
Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 or millerc@ gvillesun.com.
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