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Widen the rescue effort

May 16, 2008, Palm Beach Post, Widen the rescue effort, Pbp Editorial.

If only it were as easy to save higher education in this state as it will be to save Florida Atlantic University's Holocaust Center.

FAU must reduce spending by $9 million for the budget year that begins July 1 because the Legislature cut the state budget by roughly $6 billion, taking $111 million from the 11 public universities. Faced with the possibility of offering fewer core classes, FAU talked about closing the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education at the main campus in Boca Raton. For all sorts of good reasons, the suggestion alarmed many people.

Among other things, the center helps teachers explain the Holocaust to schoolchildren. FAU's service area - Fort Lauderdale to St. Lucie County - includes one of the country's largest and most civic-minded Jewish populations in the world. Florida schools are required to offer education about the Holocaust. The FAU center is home to the largest collection of video testimonies from the Nazis' campaign to wipe out the Jews. It is a great community and state resource.

The center also is a bonus, however important, even if the budget to run it is only $100,000. To save money, state universities are cutting enrollment and going to four-day weeks. FAU was not wrong to discuss closing the center.

Fortunately, the discussion began an effort to keep the center open with private money. State Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, who voted for the budget cuts, said he understood FAU's decision, given the "fiscal realities. They have to prioritize." Rep. Hasner also notes the importance of the center, and says that he's working to help raise private money. Based on the strong response this week, it seems likely that the center will stay open.

Good as that news will be, it won't help the wider FAU. President Frank Brogan, like his counterparts, still will have to approve harmful budget cuts. The Legislature has been shorting Florida's universities for years, and some in Tallahassee could take the wrong message from the support for the Holocaust center. (See? The colleges don't need all that public money after all.) Forty-seven percent of the University of Florida's $1.7 billion budget comes from the state. Tuition at Florida's public universities is the lowest in the country.

The Holocaust center would not have been in jeopardy if the Legislature gave state universities even adequate budgets. It would be wonderful if the people who campaigned to keep the center open began a campaign to make Florida's universities the envy of the country.

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