From Today's Tallahassee Democrat:
Don't let Thrasher and FSU bypass the process
State Sen. John Thrasher's initiative to divide the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering into two separate entities is very disquieting and even disheartening. It also arouses feelings of suspicion, especially since it came at the heels of Elmira Magnum's assumption of the presidency of Florida A&M.
Only three days into her presidency, Magnum hardly had time to unpack her boxes much less be adequately prepared to address the important and sensitive issue of "breaking up" three decades of cooperative relationship with Florida State. One would have expected adequate preparation time for such an important decision; this was not the case.
Overall, I find four troubling concerns with the manner in which the separation was initiated through the appropriations process.
* First, it raises suspicion that Thrasher, a seasoned politician for whom I have profound respect, chose to utilize proviso language in the Senate's Appropriations Bill as the vehicle to initiate the separation, instead of amending the existing statute as is routinely done.
In taking this course of legislative action, Thrasher avoided valid analysis and adequate debate on the separation. As a former legislative analyst in the Senate, I am acutely aware that creating new, or amending current legislation, necessitates legislative analysts to provide economic impact analyses which then serve to inform legislative policy decision on the issue. Amending the current statute would have permitted open committee debates and voting at various levels in both the House and Senate as to the merits of the separation.
Is there a fear as to the outcome of these legislative actions? Would the legislators have statutorily authorized and legitimized the establishment of two independent engineering programs no more than two miles apart? In essence, FAMU's engineering program stands to lose legal legitimacy, since neither the current statute nor the current proviso language authorizes a stand-alone program at FAMU.
* Second, where is the voice and authority of FSU's Board of Trustees with regard to the separation initiative? Boards of trustees were established as the governing bodies of individual state universities. Boards not only have the power to employ and dismiss presidents, but they also have the legitimate authority to approve or eliminate academic programs based on the recommendation of the university's president. Thrasher surely knows this process, having served as chair of FSU's BOT. Why was this process not followed in seeking a standalone engineering program?
* Third, FSU Interim President Garnett Stokes said she was not aware of Thrasher's initiative, but that the millions designated for the separation is a "gift" which she accepts.
However, Stokes served as provost, the chief architect of academic programs. Provosts regularly monitor the strengths and weakness of academic programs, yet she cannot say how the cooperative agreement with FAMU negatively impacts her institution.
It is also customary for provosts to recommend changes in academic programs at universities, so why then did Stokes not recommend the change through her Board of Trustees, which is the legitimate body to approve such a change. Since Stokes did not recommend the separation to her BOT for consideration, then she must not have seen the need for a stand-alone college of engineering. In her April 4 statement to the FSU community, Stokes makes claim of FSU's progress through pre-eminent status, yet she failed to say how the joint engineering program hinders the elevation of her university's status. Many would argue that diversity and cooperative programs enhance institutional pre-eminent status.
* Fourth, I would hate to think that a seasoned politician and former BOT chair as Thrasher would seek to usurp the governing authority that resides in the hands of the Board of Governors. It is this body that is vested with the powers, duties and authority "for the operation, regulation, control, management and governance of the whole university system." A primary responsibility of this body is the approval of state universities policies and programs while keeping academic program duplication in check.
It is also this body that evaluates and monitors the efficiency and effectiveness of universities academic programs. Has this body been asked for an objective assessment and recommendation on the FAMU-FSU joint engineering program? Is there some fear that an objective analysis would reveal that it is FAMU that has the legal claim for a stand-alone program, given its designation and recognition as a land grant institution and the evolution and history of engineering programs at such institutions?
Given the overall process and limited discussion on the separation process leads me to this question: If both the individual BOT and the BOG governing powers and decision-making authority can be bypassed, what is truly the purpose of these governing bodies?
Narayan Persaud is the Faculty Senate president at Florida A&M University. Contact him at email@example.com