Hot-topic school at FSU gets rejected

Board of Governors Chairwoman Carolyn Roberts speaks Thursday after the Board of Governors killed a proposed chiropractic school at Florida State University on Thursday, saying the program was pushed by the Legislature instead of the university's faculty and board of trustees. Roberts said that the vote had nothing to do with the merits of the profession.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 11:50 p.m.
After sitting quietly last spring as the Legislature handed over $9 million to Florida State University for a new chiropractic school, the state's higher education governing board found its voice on Thursday.
The Florida Board of Governors voted down FSU's proposal that would have established the first school of chiropractic at a public university in the nation, and sent a message that it - not lawmakers - is responsible for setting policy at state universities.
FSU, whose President T.K. Wetherell had been verbally defiant of the board's power to squelch the project, didn't put up much of a fight, either.
"We do not wish any confrontation with any group," said Wetherell, a former House speaker. "We have attempted to follow guidelines, and we've attempted to follow your direction."
The board members who met at the University of Florida spent little time discussing how the proposal ended up before them -through the political channels of Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville and Rep. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island.
In the end, the chiropractic school fell flat with board members because it was too expensive, too risky and too out in left field away from the mission of the state university system.
Palmer College's new school in Port Orange would graduate more than the 108 chiropractors forecast to be needed each year. Board of Governors members feared the pricey venture, estimated at $60 million, would drain education coffers already near-dry from serving existing needs.
FSU Provost Larry Abele even acknowledged that the chiropractic school could be "harmful" to the university's quest to become a member of the Association of American Universities, considered a benchmark of success in higher education circles. UF is the only AAU institution in Florida.
"There should be clear and convincing evidence to approve this," said board member John Temple, a Boca Raton developer. "Not only is it not clear, but it's not convincing."
That's not to say there weren't those who tried to be clear and convincing.
The Florida Chiropractic Association launched a last-minute push to win the favor of board members. Association officials quoted statistics from polls showing the overall support of the public. They explained that most chiropractic schools in other countries are associated with universities.
Board Chairwoman Carolyn Roberts said she was swamped Wednesday and Thursday with e-mails from more than 100 chiropractors around the state urging her to back the school.
A handful addressed the board at Thursday's meeting.
"Chiropractic is one spoke in the wheel of health care," chiropractor Joe Johnson said. "It's good for the patient if we can elevate the bar."
They were countered by FSU's most outspoken critic of chiropractic, Ray Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon who teaches part time at FSU's medical school. While he has said chiropractic medicine is "quackery," he kept his comments reserved Thursday.
"The chiropractic school would not meet your definition of fit for FSU," Bellamy said. "And there is no shortage of chiropractors here."
Jibes from the two sides had been escalating for weeks, sending news organizations into a frenzy.
Wetherell said the news media craze had gotten so out of hand that four TV crews and a host of journalists sat in on a meeting at FSU in which officials were developing a curriculum for the chiropractic school.
"I don't think there's ever been a reporter at a curriculum meeting," Wetherell said.
Now that the chiropractic school has been stopped, it's unclear what will happen to the $9 million appropriated to FSU.
Wetherell, who owned up to his frustration, said Thursday he does not plan on resurrecting the school at a later time.
"I'm not going to bring it back," he said.
But Jones, himself a chiropractor, said the legislation that created the school in the first place would not be repealed. He indicated the proposal could arise at a different university in the future
"The unfortunate thing was that when we got into all the political rhetoric, we got off the merits of the program," Jones said. "It's unfortunate the program became a scapegoat."
That's not the way Gainesville's E.T. York, former chancellor of the university system, sees it.
He is among a group of leaders suing to keep legislators from meddling in education affairs. Despite the Board of Governor's change of heart - the board refused to challenge the school during the 2004 legislative session - York said the lawsuit will continue.
"The chiropractic school is one less thing we will have to deal with," York said.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or

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