Managing Florida’s state university system is a herculean task in the best of times.
Managing in the midst of the coronavirus crisis might be an impossible task, even for three wise men and 50 Nobel laureates.
Still, the State University System’s Board of Governors is obliged to give it the old college try.
Instead, the folks responsible for roughly 350,000 students at Florida’s 12 state universities have thrown up their hands and thrown in the towel.
Recently, Miami Herald reporters Ana Ceballos and Karina Ellwood checked in on Florida’s university campuses, where the kids are learning way too much about how people in high places get away with passing the bucks and blaming the victims.
It’s every university president for himself (and yes, all of them are men) under a governing body that lacks the will and — more important — the power to bring meaningful guidance and resources to a multiplicity of coronavirus-related problems.
Even toddlers can tell when the grown-ups are dithering, so it’s no surprise that teenagers and 20-somethings are feeling adrift and turning to their peers for support.
Neurobiologists tell us that impulse control isn’t fully operational until the mid-20s.
You can’t blame the kids for wanting to gather up and party down in the bars and fancy apartment complexes that surround many institutions of higher learning.
But you can bully and berate the kids, especially when their maskless faces end up on sports channels and social media.
It’s a shortsighted and mean-spirited strategy, but it’s easier than reckoning with mounting evidence that universities are high-priced Petri dishes growing coronavirus germs that inevitably spread to the larger community in life-threatening doses.
The trend lines reported by Ceballos and Ellwood concern prominent Florida epidemiologists and professors of medicine, who show up regularly in national media outlets to plead the case for consistent messaging based upon sound science.
It’s the best way — indeed, the only way — to return to what we used to call normal. But they’re prophets without honor on their own campuses.
SCIENCE SHOULD RULE
That’s because the real power is not with the BOG, and not with the presidents, but with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, like too many governors before him, has the power of the purse and wields it like King Lear.
University presidents have been doing their best to accommodate DeSantis’ desire to downplay the pandemic and ramp up the campus-based economy, without unleashing a run on the campus clinics.
Absent coherent, system wide guidance, it’s a mess. DeSantis’ impulse-control issues make it a minefield.
Florida State University President John Thrasher stepped in it last week with a memo to students professing zero tolerance for coronavirus-related rule breaking.
DeSantis pitched a fit, went full James Madison and directed his staff to “look into a Bill of Rights” for students.
Thrasher has every right to be angry.
DeSantis has done as much as anybody, and more than most, to advance the party line that partying college kids are just reckless brats who refuse to take “personal responsibility.”
In truth, the kids are alright. It’s the adults who need fixing.
©2020 Miami Herald