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Flexibility is a vital part of high-quality leadership

In a political process dominated by media buzz and clear-cut, black and white campaign promises, Gov. Charlie Crist demonstrated on Wednesday a rare but much-needed ability among today’s politicians: the art of compromise.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Crist, in a move that marked a significant turnaround of his earlier position, agreed to drop his threatened veto of the differential tuition bill that would allow USF, the University of Florida and Florida State University to increase tuition beyond that of other state universities. Crist’s revised decision was a direct result of a meeting with the 11 state university presidents. Crist said that he was unaware that there was unanimous support among the 11 for a tuition increase for only three universities. This united front, along with an agreement to delay the increase until fall 2008, convinced Crist to sign the bill into law.

The agreement to delay was a key factor for Crist, who intends to use the time, along with lawmakers and university officials, to find alternate sources of funding in the state budget in order to ultimately avoid the increase. Such a compromise is an admirable move, as it gives Crist the opportunity to find the alternate methods he would prefer while assuring the schools that even if he fails to do so, they will have the funding they need.

There are those who will likely accuse Crist of flip-flopping on his earlier stance of opposing all tuition increases. They will insist that Crist has gone back on his word, or caved under pressure, or employ some other catchphrase to condemn his change of mind. This is a very dangerous message to send our politicians, however.

Those we elect to be our leaders are charged with an important trust, the authority to make decisions to benefit their constituents. Through research and discussion with other administrators as well as the man-on-the-street, they have the opportunity to continually increase the knowledge base they use to make those decisions. We should applaud Crist for being able to revise his stance and reach a reasonable compromise, not demand that he stubbornly cling to ill-conceived, unilateral stances as some modern-day leaders are inclined – and often encouraged – to do.

In the final analysis, current USF students can look forward to reduced class sizes while aspiring USF students need not worry about enrollment freezes, thanks to Crist’s capacity to work with and listen to those he governs, rather than dictate to them.