TALLAHASEE —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 Bushs 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 Floridas 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 states 10 public universities, nominated themselves.
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 Sarasotas 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 Floridas 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 Floridas 10 university presidents he will keep an open mind, seeking diversity of backgrounds, cultures, professions and geography, with little or no consideration of politics.
Its a promise his supporters say he must keep, and even some of his critics say he would be foolish to break. The success of Bushs bold and controversial overhaul of the university system -- and the future of the universities themselves -- will rest largely in the trustees hands.
"I doubt hes willing to destroy what hes worked so hard to build," said one of the harshest critics of Bushs 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 someones wishful thinking.
Cosby has been suggested for Florida A&M Universitys board. Buffett was nominated for Florida Atlantic Universitys 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 Floridas 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 universitys 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, Youve spent half of your adult life trying to support UCF. Its a passion for me. Its my alma mater. Its where I met my wife. Its where I got my professional act together," Pynn said. "Ive always tried to pay back UCF."
Winter Park businessman Philip Handy, a close Bush adviser who has been nominated for FAMUs 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 wed like to emulate. Weve looked at those," Handy said. "Michigan, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley. Im hopeful our boards will emulate those kinds of boards."