- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

May 2

Gainesville Sun, Florida, on the University of Florida:

As the University of Florida tries to rise in the rankings, officials need to ensure that faculty who endured years of cuts aren’t left behind.

The Legislature this month approved a budget that would provide UF with more than $100 million in additional funding. The budget, which awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s approval, includes an extra $5 million for UF to pursue top 10 status on top of the $15 million previously passed for that purpose.

UF has already been hiring faculty in areas identified as important in the top-10 push, dubbed UF Rising. UF Provost Joe Glover last week told the Faculty Senate that he hopes that as many as 40 of 120 newly authorized positions will be filled by year’s end.

As UF brings in new faculty, it can’t forget the people who stuck with the university through five years of cuts that only ended last year. A faculty union survey that included eight colleges with nearly 550 respondents revealed deep dissatisfaction in those ranks.

Respondents were asked if they agreed with the statement that they would leave UF if offered a comparable job elsewhere and personal factors did not keep them here. A majority of faculty in seven of the eight colleges - business administration was the exception - strongly or somewhat agreed.

The figures were as high as 75 percent of faculty respondents in the colleges of fine arts and liberal arts and sciences. Neither should be a surprise, given that they were particularly hard hit during budget cuts.

While UF has tried to stay competitive in pay, years without raises moved already stagnant salaries further behind. UF faculty salaries are as much as $17,000 lower than salaries at comparable public universities, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education study.

As The Sun reported last month, the gap is tens of thousands of dollars greater between full professors at UF and those at public universities already in the top 10.

UF President Bernie Machen has indicated that raises are a top priority, and Glover reiterated that commitment last week.

Other employees must also be properly compensated, including graduate assistants who teach as much as 50 percent of all classes at UF, as The Sun reported. About 10 percent of their already modest incomes are taken by ever-increasing student fees.

UF’s drive to be a top 10 university is focused on increasing research that attracts grants and leads to breakthrough discoveries and spinoff companies. That focus also provides economic benefits for Gainesville as a whole, but so does ensuring all employees are properly compensated.

While hiring new faculty in targeted areas is crucial, being a top university also means retaining quality people.

As the university seeks fresh blood, it must ensure current employees share in the benefits of its newly bolstered budget. A wide variety of disciplines must rise together for UF to truly be an elite university.




May 12

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on higher speed limits:

A majority of state legislators believe Florida has a need for more speed on some highways. If Gov. Rick Scott agrees, it at least would be up to the Department of Transportation, not politicians, to decide where, if any, such increases are justified.

They should be few and far between.

Florida’s highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, but in its recently concluded session the Legislature passed a bill that would allow an increase on some stretches of road to 75 mph. The measure leaves it to FDOT engineers to determine the safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have at least four lanes. The highest levels should apply exclusively to the long, boring stretches of interstates that have low traffic and limited access.

That means speed limits shouldn’t increase on Interstates 4 and 95, which are heavily congested and already resemble scenes from “The Fast and the Furious.” In fact, many drivers on those highways already exceed the 70 mph limit by more than 5 mph; it’s not unusual to be forced to go 80 mph in the far right lane just to avoid becoming a traffic cone to those motorists going much faster.

This is encapsulated in the “85 percentile” rule, widely used by traffic engineers to set the speed limit of a road by determining the speed of 85 percent of the cars that travel it. The idea is that roads are less dangerous when speed limits reflect real driving speeds. Research suggests that motorists driving 10 mph slower than the prevailing speed are more likely to be involved in an accident.

However, speed is not unlimited. Unless they are professional race car or stunt drivers, most highway motorists don’t drive as fast as they can; they drive what feels most comfortable for the conditions. The 85 percentile rule relies on most drivers behaving rationally. Thus, the theory goes, raising the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph won’t result in most drivers increasing their speeds a concurrent 5 mph or more; they simply will remain in their “comfort zone” of 75-80 mph.

That relies on a trust in human nature that quite frankly is seldom rewarded on most state highways.

Faster speeds not only can cause more accidents, they can result in more serious injuries. For example, Iowa saw deaths on rural stretches of interstates increase 10 percent when it raised the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph in 2005.

In the interest of safety, Gov. Scott should apply the brakes to this bill. If he signs the measure into law, state highway officials should exercise their power judiciously and sparingly. Limit the higher speeds to the least-traveled roads, which should be few (such as stretches of I-10 in north Florida). Closely monitor the results - and be prepared to reduce them if safety is compromised.




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