January 11, 2008

Florida Education Hurting at University Level, Too

A vicious comment I received this morning and deleted, because it degenerated quickly into thinly-veiled threats about what would happen to me if I ever "took my athiest niggerloving [sic] self" to Florida, asserted that I had no right to criticize the "sonshine" state. Probably not strongly committed to education...I'm not worried about the threats, but my concerns about what happens in Florida aren't merely atmospheric. I only left there six months ago, after all, and my undergraduate degree says Florida State University in big letters across the top:. For better or for worse, I will have some connection to the state, and particularly to the world's perception of what an education in Florida signifies, for many years to come.

That leaves me particularly concerned about what happens to education at the university level, moreso at my own alma mater than anywhere else. That particularly elements in Florida, then, want to turn back the clock and so make all of the state look like a bunch of pig-ignorant knuckle draggers is bad enough (like the upstanding gentleman who so kindly left that erudite comment from which I quoted), but when the very university that granted me my degree begins faltering due to poor state governance and a lack of commitment, I have to sit up and take note.

Universities brace for bad news

Faculty and administrators at Florida State University are concerned that anticipated budget cuts will negatively impact the quality of education at their institution...

State university Chancellor Mark Rosenberg sent out the early warnings about the universities' budgets in December at the Board of Governors meeting. University administrators already cut their budgets in the fall resulting in a $65 million reduction to the state's 11 public colleges and universities.

However, Rosenberg forewarned stakeholders of the anticipated cuts. Now, more than a month later, the news of the second wave of budget cuts is beginning to trickle down to faculty.

FSU English department chairman Ralph Berry said in 22 years of working at the university, he's never seen the financial climate in this bad a shape.

"We're not talking about a one-time budget cut," Berry said in speculation of what is to come. "This is a cut in recurring funds — like salaries."

Berry admitted he didn't know what administrators at FSU had planned. He had been given permission earlier in the school year to hire at least one professor. Now, he can't.

"Nobody is confident that the future of FSU and future of education in this state is something they can count on," Berry said. Robert Bradley, FSU's vice president of academic affairs, said university administrators don't have much fat to trim in the budget.

"This time we really don't have anything in the way of reserves," he said. "These are the worst cuts that we've seen since the early '70s..."

Administrators at neither university had worked out the specifics on how they would make ends meet. But, in the meantime, Berry said, professors are being courted by other universities outside of the state. These universities offer merit or cost of living increases...
This is in a state that already pays teachers in its public schools such laughably low salaries that they don't tend to stick around; the average in Florida is about $43,000 per year; it's $5,000 a year higher just over the border in Georgia (Source). So much for commitment at that level — but now the public universities are targeted to take a bullet, too. You know, just like an "athiest niggerlover" setting foot in Florida would be, according to my anonymous commenter, himself likely a product of the public education system, though hopefully not a university graduate.

To my way of thinking, commitment to education isn't manifested in eroding universities and it isn't apparent in injecting Bronze Age thought into public school science classrooms where classes are already being held in trailers. "Commitment" means doing what it takes. It means making the thing committed to a priority. Nothing going on in Florida looks like a commitment to education; it looks like lip service at best and an excuse for exercising a political and religious agenda at worst. It looks like, to paraphrase neo-conservative architect Grover Norquist, an attempt to drown it in a bathtub. One can only hope that those in the state who don't think that ideology will wash have sufficient numbers and energy to reverse the trend.

Otherwise, I fear that Neanderthals like the one who left that anonymous comment will win the day and an undergraduate degree from a Floridian public university won't be worth the paper upon which it's printed. That's not only bad for the students of the state, it's bad for the country. Thanks to the efforts of people like Donna Callaway and David Anderson and the boards of education of St. Lucie, Taylor, Baker and Holmes counties, the world is increasingly pointing and laughing at America's nethermost limb.

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