THRASHER NAMED FSU PRESIDENT After a contentious seven month search, Senator John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) was selected as the next president of Florida State University on an 11-2 vote of the Board of Trustees. Thrasher was one of four finalists interviewed by the Board and the only finalist without an academic background. He did not enjoy the support of the faculty or students of FSU, who were vocal in their opposition. Until resigning on September 17th, Thrasher also served as chair of Governor Rick Scott’s campaign. It is expected that the State Board of Governors will concur with the decision when they meet on November 5th.
UWF PRESIDENT The 21-member faculty senate at the University of West Florida cast a vote of no confidence in President Judy Bense. They called for her resignation to coincide when her current term ends in June 2015. The reasons included their perception of lax admission policies that put the university’s accreditation at risk which resulted in a state funding reduction; her accepting a substantial salary increase while keeping faculty pay static; and putting the football program ahead of academics. In response, UWF’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution supporting Bense.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS SCANDAL Just before the publication of an expose by The Miami Herald, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews acted upon accusations of brutal treatment of prisoners in four Florida prisons. Thirty-two guards were fired from the four affected prisons in which inmates died during a period of 2010 through 2014. The fired guards were accused of criminal wrongdoing or misconduct in connection with the deaths, although no official charges have been filed.
In late 2012, Governor Scott received an anonymous whistleblower letter concerning an alleged cover-up of one of the deaths. The Governor forwarded the letter to his Chief Inspector General who, rather than open an investigation, sent the letter to the Department of Corrections for action. The Department had already closed the case and determined there was no relationship between the inmates’ death and correction employees. No further investigation was made until scrutiny by the media began.
BRIGHT FUTURES SCHOLARSHIP The 2011 Florida Legislature established higher standards for the Bright Futures scholarship program as a cost savings measure. Within the last two years, the number of students qualifying for the awards has dropped by 35,000. Florida’s state universities say they will need an additional $45 million from the state budget to increase financial aid to help low-income students impacted by the cuts. The Board of Governors postponed a September 17th presentation on the issue until after the general elections.
STUDENT TESTING The recent outcry against standardized tests reached a tipping point when the Lee County School Board decided to opt out of the new state standard testing. They reversed their decision, but in the meantime, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart sent a memo to school superintendents announcing that students in kindergarten through second grade will no longer be required to take the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading test. Instead, she instructed teachers to observe children reading in an informal setting. Parents and educators remain concerned, and more vocal, about the number of tests students must take over the course of their education.