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Despite Pappas report, trust and patience are key

Wednesday’s meeting of the Florida Board of Governors marked the first look at the Pappas report, which presented an unvarnished view of the flaws that exist within the State University System.? A circumspect group of university stakeholders – provosts, presidents and trustees – gingerly attempted to discern what the prescription for this diagnosis would be. Interestingly, the consultant noted that Florida’s higher education system had been diagnosed many times before in similar studies; some of these were commissioned by the public sector – government agencies – while others were launched by the private sector – business leadership such as the Florida Council of 100.? Despite the evidence, the consultant said, Florida remains notorious for its failure to implement suggested changes. However, with the ardent John Dasburg as the chair of the BOG group commissioning the study, there will be more than just a look.

It will take more than a study and strong proponent on the BOG to make a change, however. Even Dasburg’s previous management experience, which includes serving as the CEO of Burger King and Northwest Airlines, is not enough to ensure movement toward a stronger education system in Florida. Students share responsibility to improve the system, and they began taking that responsibility today with my conditional support of the recommendation to the Legislature that tuition be raised.

Better education requires increased financial support. In years past, students and the state have pointed fingers at each other as to who should contribute this support – and rightly so. Both parties must up the ante if Florida is to succeed as a state. As I stated in my letter to the editor on Wednesday, Florida’s future economic prosperity is predicated in Floridians’ investment in education now.

Florida currently has the lowest tuition of any state, but Floridians do not make up for it in state investment. This investment is necessary if Florida’s students are to remain competitive in the global marketplace that awaits them. No longer are Florida students competing for jobs with students from other state institutions; they are competing with graduates from across the globe, and those graduates are receiving a better education.

I have asserted these facts before they were published in the Pappas report, and I have also asked for – and received – months of delay from the BOG with regards to the tuition recommendation. The Board tabled this recommendation so that it would have time to hear from experts on the matter at hand and gather as much data as possible, and I believe the Board has done just that. Nonetheless, my vote in support of the seven percent figure in today’s meeting is not a commitment to a hard and fast amount – the Legislature will likely amend it anyway. But it is a vote in favor of sharing the needed increased financial support – it is a vote in favor of shared responsibility, and it is a vote to demonstrate the student commitment to cooperation among all parties to improve the system.

If the SUS is to progress, it will require each student, as stakeholders in the system and Florida’s future, to have faith in students’ ability to cooperate. Some fear that a vote in favor of a tuition recommendation – even with the stipulation that the state must commensurately increase its investment – shows some kind of “weakness” on behalf of the student position.

It is this “game theory” mentality that has led USF to its current system, as well as Florida to its shortsighted position on higher education and its immediate, result-oriented culture. Strategic thinking requires trust and patience, which are rare commodities in any political arena. Students will start the pot, but now the question is, “Who else will ante up?”

Frank Harrison is a senior majoring in history and is student bodypresident.