Posted on Fri, Jan. 28, 2005
Chiropractic college killed
Flexing its muscles, Florida's Board of Governors rebuffed the state Legislature and killed a proposed chiropractic school that lawmakers said last year should go to Florida State University.
BY GARY FINEOUT
GAINESVILLE - In the end, the money didn't matter, and neither did a state law nor the potential wrath of state legislators.
Florida's Board of Governors, the panel pushed into existence by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to watch over Florida's public universities, voted Thursday to kill a proposal to set up the nation's first chiropractic college at a public university.
The panel shot down the college even though the Florida Legislature had authorized its creation a year ago in a state law and guaranteed Florida State University $9 million annually to operate it. Earlier this month, FSU's own trustees had asked for more time to let their own faculty review the merits of the college.
But by an overwhelming margin, the Board of Governors rejected the idea, questioning the need for the program and whether it fit into FSU's mission to become a nationally recognized research university. They also pointed fingers at FSU's trustees, chiding them for not taking a stronger vote in favor of the school two weeks ago.
The Board of Governors vote Thursday was 10-3. Chairwoman Carolyn Roberts, who said she opposed the school as well, did not cast a vote.
''I am not convinced there is a need for the program,'' said board member Rolland Heiser, a retired Army general from Sarasota. ``I think there are more pressing needs in the state university system, considering our limited resources. I intend to vote my conscience.''
That's exactly what Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed most of the board's members, urged them to do a week ago. Board member and state Education Commissioner John Winn, once a top aide to Bush, also voted against the chiropractic college.
''The one thing we all agreed on was they had not established a need for it,'' Winn said.
The governor's apparent defection -- he had once been a supporter of the chiropractic school -- drew the ire of Sen. Jim King, the Jacksonville Republican and former Senate president. He and Sen. Dennis Jones, a chiropractor and Pinellas County Republican, were instrumental in obtaining the money for the college.
Sounding bitter, King said Thursday that he agreed to hold a special session in late 2003 and spend more than $300 million to lure the Scripps Research Institute to Palm Beach County -- a measure the governor avidly sought -- in exchange for a promise that the governor would support the chiropractic college.
''I'm disappointed in the governor,'' King said. 'I don't understand the governor's position. The governor shook my hand and drank my champagne and said, `Congratulations, a battle well won, but it's over now.' I said, 'Are you sure?' -- 'Oh, yeah, everything's fine.' ''
CHANGE OF POSITION
King said that Bush later retreated, saying he made his promise before the Board of Governors stepped in.
'So he stepped back and said, `Jim, I promised you this, but y'know, I never promised you the Board of Governors vote,' '' said King, who added that if Bush would have lobbied members they would have supported the college. ``It doesn't make me feel any better about the fact that I shook hands on $360 million worth of Scripps, you know, in an effort to make sure that everything was going smoothly, in exchange for which the chiropractic college was supposed to be a fait accompli.''
FSU's bid to open the chiropractic college, which would have offered a doctorate in chiropractic along with a master's degree in other areas, was moving along smoothly until November, when the Board of Governors demanded to review the proposal.
Initially, FSU officials and lawmakers were inclined to fight the board, saying the measure had been in the works for years. FSU officials relented, but between that time and Thursday's vote, the university's own faculty began to rise up against the proposal, stoked on by a small band of angry alumni. Many faculty members derided chiropractic as ''pseudoscience'' and openly expressed fears that a college for chiropractic would harm FSU's academic reputation. Chiropractors in turn accused medical doctors of professional bigotry and turf-guarding.
Ray Bellamy, the Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon and FSU alumnus who sparked the opposition, was openly jubilant at Thursday's vote.
''They voted their consciences. They did the right thing,'' Bellamy said.
Roberts, the board's chairwoman, insisted that the vote was not about whether or not chiropractic is legitimate, but whether there is a need for a public university to produce more chiropractors. A study put together for the board pointed out that Florida now has more chiropractors than the national average and that a new private chiropractic college recently opened near Daytona Beach.
By taking the vote, however, the board signaled a shift in how the state's universities are run. In the past, lawmakers were able to dictate programs such as new law schools and medical schools when the universities were under the old Board of Regents, a panel that the Legislature eventually abolished. But the new Board of Governors was created by a constitutional amendment and it has powers that can't be trumped by the Legislature.
CAN FSU KEEP MONEY?
FSU President T.K. Wetherell said that FSU would not defy the board and move ahead with the program, although he said he doesn't know how the Legislature will react or whether it will take back the money it guaranteed the university a year ago. The law says that FSU can use the money for other purposes until it is used for the chiropractic college.
Wetherell said he will ask for a meeting with Gov. Bush and legislative leaders to decide what to do next. Wetherell said he wasn't surprised by the vote, but he said he was ''frustrated'' by a process that squeezed the university between the Legislature and the Board of Governors.
Roberts said she has assurances from top legislative leaders that there will not be any repercussions to FSU or other universities by Thursday's vote.
House Speaker Allan Bense was surprised at the lopsided vote on the school.
''Wow,'' he said, when he heard the vote. ``Unless there's a different message from the Board of Governors, that's the end of the FSU chiropractic school.''
The Panama City Republican said legislators will review FSU's $9 million allocation and the budget committee will decide what to do. Meanwhile, he has assigned Rep. Dudley Goodlette to lead the review of the issues surrounding university governance.
''The chiropractic school was the flash point and that debate will continue,'' he said. ``Maybe the saga will continue.''
Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.
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