Enter to win every day in CTNOW's 21 Days of Summer Giveaways. Click here to see today's prize.
CT Now

Celebrities, politicians among university nominees

As the Legislature concludes the yearlong drive to abolish the state Board of Regents, the seeds of the new university system are being planted in the state Capitol basement.

There, in Gov. Jeb Bush’s appointments office -- four floors below the legislative chambers -- thick binders already are filling with the names of prominent and politically connected people who may soon be asked to run Florida’s public universities. Some, such as Bill Cosby and Jimmy Buffett, may not even know they were nominated. Others, itching for the chance to have influence over one of the state’s 10 public universities, nominated themselves.

Bush is looking for more than 100 people who can serve on those boards.

He also is looking for seven people for the new Florida Board of Education, which will set policy for universities and community colleges and, by 2003, for public schools. Each state university would have at least 10 or 11 trustees. And there is a chance the Legislature and Bush may agree to an 11th university, elevating Sarasota’s New College, a small, quasi-independent branch of the University of South Florida, to full independence.

Step right up and apply -- but hurry. Bush has vowed to fill all the seats by July 1. On that day, the boards of trustees are to replace the Board of Regents, which has governed Florida’s universities since 1965.

Bush and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan put out the help-wanted notices just over a week ago -- before the Legislature even considered the bill -- and already nearly 200 nominations have filled the binders, coming as lengthy applications, simple letters, e-mail printouts and even phone messages.

But whom will Bush pick?

Diversity will be key

At a meeting at the University of Central Florida on April 20, Bush promised Florida’s 10 university presidents he will keep an open mind, seeking diversity of backgrounds, cultures, professions and geography, with little or no consideration of politics.

It’s a promise his supporters say he must keep, and even some of his critics say he would be foolish to break. The success of Bush’s bold and controversial overhaul of the university system -- and the future of the universities themselves -- will rest largely in the trustees’ hands.

"I doubt he’s willing to destroy what he’s worked so hard to build," said one of the harshest critics of Bush’s planned new university system, Dr. Joseph Layon, a University of Florida radiology professor who is chairman of the UF Faculty Senate.

Many of the nominations are people who clearly have the desire and connections. Others may simply be someone’s wishful thinking.

Cosby has been suggested for Florida A&M University’s board. Buffett was nominated for Florida Atlantic University’s board. Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, Orlando City Commissioner Daisy Lynum, Walt Disney World Vice President Dianna Morgan and more than half of the current regents are among those on file by Friday.

2 nominees for UCF board

So far, only two names have been floated for the University of Central Florida’s board, though one has been floated often. Orlando public relations man Roger W. Pynn nominated himself, and also was nominated by nine others , including Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, Rep. Allen Trovillion, R-Winter Park, and Seminole Community College President Ann McGee. The other UCF nominee is Richard E. Morrison, vice president of Florida Hospital, who nominated himself.

Pynn, a longtime board member of the UCF Foundation, the university’s nonprofit fund-raising agency, argues that the universities ought to be served by trustees who already have committed themselves to the schools.

"As my wife said, ‘You’ve spent half of your adult life trying to support UCF.’ It’s a passion for me. It’s my alma mater. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I got my professional act together," Pynn said. "I’ve always tried to pay back UCF."

Winter Park businessman Philip Handy, a close Bush adviser who has been nominated for FAMU’s board, was one of the chief architects of the new system. Handy, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard universities, is a true believer that the new system can work, with careful appointments.

"There are world-class universities we’d like to emulate. We’ve looked at those," Handy said. "Michigan, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley. I’m hopeful our boards will emulate those kinds of boards."

Democrats are nervous

In spite of Handy’s and Bush’s assurances, university communities and many Democrats are nervous, because Bush will have the opportunity to turn the universities into politically controlled institutions.

"My biggest concern is that this ends up being a political patronage system for this governor, or for any other, for that matter," said State Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach. Still, he added: "Just because someone is a Republican or a Bush supporter doesn’t mean they’re not qualified."Former Florida House Speaker T.K. Wetherell, who worked with Handy on a state task force that planned the new system, downplayed the trustees’ importance, saying "The staff is probably going to be more key to the success than who the governor picks."

Nonetheless, Wetherell has nominated 24 people for various boards. Among his recommendations: Morgan, outgoing Regent Steven Uhlfelder, Orlando businesswoman Julia Johnson and fellow former House Speaker and task-force member John Thrasher.

"What you’re looking for is a mix of people that will make a strong board," Wetherell said.

Uhlfelder, one of the most vocal members of the Board of Regents, said the trustees need to be vocal, too. "They need to be cheerleaders, but they need to be diligent protectors of the taxpayers and the students," he said.

‘No-win situation’

Bush has asked the university presidents for their recommendations and promised to give them serious consideration. But some presidents have pointed out how awkward it would be for them to make recommendations. After all, whomever Bush picks will become their bosses.

"It’s a no-win situation," said FAU President Anthony Catanese.

So far, FAMU President Frederick Humphries and UF President Charles Young have offered names. But Humphries retires this summer, and Young has said he’s not planning to stay more than another couple of years.

Catanese said he was delighted by Bush’s remarks last Friday about wanting to cast a national and international net for trustees, and to consider people he might not have been previously thinking about, such as scientists and scholars.

"It got me thinking bigger than I had been," Catanese said. "I’m not just looking at Republican Party contribution lists anymore."

Still, Catanese is a realist.

"You want world-class people. But you want world-class people whose phone calls [to the governor] will be returned."

Scott Powers can be reached at spowers@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5441.Karla Schuster can be reached at kschuster@sunsentinel.com or 850-224-6214.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
Related Content
Comments
Loading
75°