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December 21, 2011 10:00 AM Florida Governor Tries Education Reform, Fails

By Daniel Luzer

Continuing financial troubles, plus perhaps the recent push to reform college education from the federal government, have lead Florida Governor Rick Scott into attempts to reform college. It’s not going so well.

First there was Scott’s much-derided comment that the state should stop supporting the humanities and social sciences because the state didn’t need more anthropologists. This was followed by an incident where Scott angered virtually all state university professors by publishing their salaries online.

And then he went too far. According to an Associated Press article by Gary Fineout in the Miami Herald:

But his call to suspend Florida A&M University President James Ammons while authorities investigate a marching band member’s hazing death triggered a backlash among the school’s students and alumni.
Hundreds of students marched on the governor’s mansion last week to confront Scott. The FAMU Board of Trustees on Monday rendered its own verdict by rejecting Scott’s suspension recommendation and saying they would resist any “outside influence” when it comes to running the 124-year-old institution. Those who stuck by the decision included the four board members that Scott himself appointed this year.

Former State Senator Al Lawson, and FAMU graduate, told Fineout that the governor’s demand to suspend Ammons overstepped his authority: “I think it’s very difficult for the governor to really understand FAMU and the way people feel about it because he hasn’t been there very long.”

Yes, it’s also just sort of weird. Scott’s past efforts at higher education reform often seem a little misguided to me, but at least his efficiency and cost cutting measures are consistent with his general cost cutting philosophy, as far as state institutions are concerned.

But this, calling on one university to fire its president because of a hazing scandal involving its marching band, seems like far too much micromanaging.

Universities arguably don’t have much interest in trying to be more efficient for the taxpayers’ sake, but they sure have an interest in preserving their own reputations. Why doesn’t Scott trust the schools to make their own human resources decisions?

Oddly, in this case Scott’s action may actually have the effect of keeping the Ammons in office. While the incident, in which a member of the school’s marching band seems to have died as a result of institutional hazing, is certainly terrible, Governor Rick Scott is really unpopular now. He’s one of the least popular governors in America.

Any action Scott takes against Ammons might actually generate sympathy for the president.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer