The Board of Governors was established in 2003 by Florida’s voters in an effort to disentangle the Legislature from the governance of the State University System of Florida. Too often the members of the Legislature had acted as if educational policy, selections of new programs — indeed, the very creation and location of universities — were things to be decided in the political arena. The result was a system much of the rest of our country found odd, indeed.
While the voters gave the BOG the authority to run and manage the SUS, the Legislature didn’t feel it needed to change its ways, and in 2007 I joined a group of citizens in a suit that ultimately was decided by the Florida Supreme Court in early 2013. The court ruled that while the Legislature has “the power of the purse” and, thus, the authority to assess student tuition and fees, there are significant restrictions on its use of budget language in matters dealing with the governance of the SUS.
In short, while the legislature has the power of the purse regarding its appropriations, tuition, and student fees, it should respect the BOG’s constitutional authority to manage and run the SUS. While these limits have not been clarified by the Supreme Court’s decision, recent legislative actions to change curricular requirements for undergraduates and to propose the establishment of a new online university are examples of its propensity to continue to take on the authority to manage and run the system.
While further clarification of the respective limits of legislative and BOG authority will await future court decisions, the citizens of Florida would be best served by the Legislature recognizing the intent of the citizens in passing the constitutional amendment, and leaving it to the BOG to consider and enact such matters of educational policy. Where there are funding implications of such decisions, of course, the Legislature must consider whether to fund such, but that’s not a matter of enacting policy decisions.
While the Legislature undoubtedly prefers that the BOG manage the SUS in a manner which effectively allows it to set the goals, establish the policies, propose the existence of new programs and institutions, these are policy issues which the people of Florida have constitutionally granted the BOG the sole responsibility and accountability to attend to. I encourage the Board of Governors to exercise its authority and not cede it to the Legislature.
Bruce W. Hauptli, professor, Florida International University, Miami