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Machen tells Scott he's open to 'fine-tuning' the higher education system

Just before Gov. Rick Scott earned headlines for his curious derision of anthropology majors, University of Florida President Bernie Machen offered a three-page memo on the state of higher education as it related to Gator Nation.

"We are, and we intend to remain, the state's most capable partner in higher education to promote the state's goals and interest," Machen writes. "We look forward to fine-tuning this understanding in the future."

Machen opens his memo, obtained in a Times-Herald public records request, by noting the Texas plan that has caught Scott's attention is largely being implemented in Florida. He questions part of the Texas proposal that would use student evaluations to determine merit pay and tenure.

"UF has a robust system of post-tenure review to ensure that faculty members remain productive throughout their careers," Machen writes in the Sept. 22 memo. "Students control their destiny through the ability to take their state-funded Bright Futures scholarships wherever they choose to matriculate. Student satisfaction is further measured by retention rates, graduation rates and applicant demand for admission."

It's difficult to remember after the press Scott has received for mocking anthropology, posting university salaries, pushing for more science-related degrees and handing out copies of the Lone Star State's "7 Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education," that the governor has yet to put out a policy proposal for the higher education system.

Florida House Higher Education Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole said Scott asked her and other lawmakers to look at the Texas plan, but that it mostly fell flat.

"We're ahead of Texas in many of those categories," the Lady Lake Republican said in a recent interview. O'Toole said she told Scott, "If I had 50 things to accomplish this year, on 'Solution 7' that's No. 49."

Instead of the Texas plan, Machen offered Scott four ways gauge achievement at Florida's state universities. From his memo:

(1) 4- and 6-year graduation rates for undergraduates; time to degree for graduate students; number of STEM graduates; percentage of bachelor degrees in STEM; professional licensure passage rates; placement of graduating students in the workforce, graduate school and professional schools; average indebtedness of graduating students
(2) Number of patents; external research grants and contracts
(3) Number of licenses, royalty income, new business spin-offs
(4) Number of medical, nursing, and dental clinics; efforts to improve teacher preparation and in-service training; citizens and industries serviced by IFAS; number of jobs created

"This is the beginning of the discussion," Machen writes, adding that "grossly devaluing any of the four goals would be counterproductive and very costly to the state."