It's the faculty, stupid


Published: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 12:45 a.m.
Dr. John James Tigert III was the University of Florida's first superstar president, having arrived on campus in 1928 after seven years as U.S. Commissioner of Education.
At the time, UF was little more than a glorified high school, with 2,300 students, a handful of faculty and a few buildings.
Tigert understood what it took to build a modern state university - a graduate school would be a nice start, for instance - but he apparently didn't know beans about football.
Up in Tallahassee, Gov. Millard Caldwell fumed over UF's "failing to fight or even trying to win in lopsided losses to Georgia and Alabama."
Members of the Board of Control schemed to handpick UF's football coach.
And Tigert was left to bemoan the fact that UF's $25,000 football budget was peanuts against southern schools that spent as much as $125,000 a year buying gridiron glory.
"I have seen no evidence that football has improved the scholastic standing of any university, or has attracted any scholars, and I would recommend against it as a builder of quality," Gov. Caldwell said in an incisive interview years after he left office. "However, if a university does decide to play football, then it should play to win. I saw no evidence at the time that the University of Florida was playing to win."
Tigert may not have understood football, but he knew that faculty, not jocks, were the real builders of quality at UF.
When state politicians wanted to mandate loyalty oaths for faculty in the 1930s, Tigert helped talk them out of it. And he created UF's first faculty senate in 1931.
University presidents, at least the good ones, know that keeping the faculty happy is more important than winning football games or pleasing politicians.
Bernie Machen no sooner got here than he found himself putting out faculty fires, killing a controversial campus road project that had professors up in arms.
And more than a year into his term, Machen is still dealing with the consequences of his predecessor's failure to deal with the faculty union.
It's just this simple: Top-notch faculty bring research funding, national prestige, good scholarship and talented graduate students with them when they arrive.
And they take all of that away when they leave.
So it's the faculty, stupid.
You'd think they would have gotten that message by now up at Florida State.
But apparently not.
No question, the Seminoles can win football games.
And of late, they've been playing the game of politics much better than the Gators (it doesn't hurt that in recent years, FSU grads have served as House speaker and Senate president).
The politicians gave FSU a medical school a few years ago.
And then they followed that up with a new chiropractic school, along with $9 million a year in perpetual funding to run it.
But it's FSU faculty that may yet keep that school from being built.
Hundreds of professors, including a couple of Nobel laureates, have made it crystal clear that they oppose FSU founding America's only university-level chiropractic school.
They use the word "pseudoscience" a lot when talking about it.
I don't think FSU President T.K. Wetherell - himself a former House speaker - saw this coming.
"When the Legislature tells you to do something and gives you the money, you used to be able to go out there and do it," Wetherell told reporters this week.
That was after his own board of trustees refused to take a position on the chiropractic school, opting instead to let the Board of Governors of the State University System decide its fate.
There is much irony in that evasive action.
When the old Board of Regents dared to oppose a new Florida State medical school, the Florida Legislature, led by then-House Speaker and FSU alum John Thrasher, turned around and abolished the regents, creating boards of trustees for each university instead.
But then the voters of Florida essentially revived the regents by approving a new state constitutional amendment creating the Board of Governors to make systemwide policy.
Which prompted Thrasher - who by then had moved from the speaker's office to the chair of FSU's Board of Trustees - to counter with a letter announcing that the Board of Governors had no "statutory authority" to stick its nose into FSU's business.
Leave us alone, Thrasher instructed the Board of Governors last year.
No, bail us out, FSU trustees are now begging the board in the face of an in-house revolt.
Now, even Gov. Jeb Bush, a Thrasher ally and co-conspirator in the great Board of Regents massacre, has seemingly turned on the Seminoles.
With FSU faculty signing petitions of opposition, Bush is recommending a drastic cut in funding for the chiropractic school.
And this week, Bush chided the administration, saying "I had hoped that FSU would have gone through the normal process for a graduate program of this magnitude."
The Board of Governors will consider FSU's chiropractic school this week, and Bush has urged its members - all of whom he appointed - not to be "swayed by political pressure."
"This has gotten way out of hand," Bush said.
It's the faculty, stupid.
Great universities are not built on football or political pork. And the really good professors don't want to feel embarrassed when they tell their colleagues where they work.
President Wetherell has played his share of both football and politics, but he apparently doesn't know how to compete in the chess game of academia.
After his trustees declined to take a position, Wetherell told the Tallahassee Democrat, "I think our board was basically saying: Why do we want to get into this fight?"
Good question.
He should have asked his faculty that before this whole mess got started.

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