December 28, 2008

Sansom watch, December 28 edition

Recent items in the news on Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom and his position at Northwest Florida State College, all today:

  • Alex Leary reported that Sansom and Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg e-mailed each other extensively on multi-year plans to funnel $122 million dollars to the college.
  • St. Petersburg Times correspondent Lucy Morgan reported that Richburg is one of the state's public executives who took advantage of an early-retirement program and then returned to employment, in his case receiving a lump-sum payout of $553,228 in 2007 before returning to work a month later at a $228,000 annual salary and a $8,803 per month pension. (I think Florida law requires that Richburg abstain from the pension for a year to keep the full pension income after returning, but Morgan does not specify what happened in his case.)
  • The Jacksonville Times-Union's editorial, Speaker flap: Sansom must choose, is straightforward: "Sansom's school ties have damaged his credibility and degrades public perceptions of the Legislature as a whole."
  • The Orlando Sentinel's Jane Healy argues that hiring legislators as employees or politicians as presidents is How not to improve higher education, and Sansom is the first example she gives on hiring legislators: "While this approach might work in the short term--more money to your college or university--it stinks to high heaven as a way to improve Florida's system overall. All it does is encourage more legislators to try to get the same deal from their local universities or colleges.... That's no way to run a system, particularly when money is scarce."
  • In St. Petersburg Times opinion piece, Eckerd College President Donald Eastman described the state-college-system plan as emblematic of the state's failure to coordinate higher education policy: "Florida's higher education landscape is like the Wild West, with powerful politicians making self-serving decisions about where new campuses will go and community colleges abandoning their original mission to now become four-year schools."

I suspect the phrase "where new campuses will go" refers to the next campus of USF Polytechnic, which sits near land of one state senator. There is some self-interest in Eastman's column: In the next round of budget cuts he will be trying to protect the state subsidy to in-state private-college students, and part of his defense will be to argue that the grant program is less expensive than public higher education and also more efficient (and less prone to politicization). But fundamentally, he's right. As one former university system Chancellor Charlie Reed described it earlier this decade (in reference to the state universities after the destruction of the old Board of Regents), Florida higher education governance has become a goat rodeo.

Update: In the first half of his year-in-review parody (the rest will be published January 4), St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler writes, "June 6: Loss of talented professors at Florida universities solved by plan to replace them with state legislators."

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Tags: Bob Richburg, DROP program, Eckerd College, Florida legislature, higher education, Ray Sansom, scandal
Posted in Higher education on December 28, 2008 6:15 AM |