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Former Florida Governor Bob Graham, an FAU professor and eight others are suing the Florida Legislature, claiming it is "unconstitutionally" controlling college tuition rates in the state. Filed on the heels of a failed 5 percent tuition hike approved by lawmakers in May but vetoed by Gov. Charlie Christ, the suit claims the Board of Governors should have the ultimate authority over how much students pay to attend Florida Atlantic University and the state's 10 other public universities.

The suit likely will not affect tuition rates this fall, but if it's successful, it could lead to a rise in the cost of a college education in Florida, where tuition is among the lowest in the country.
Established in 2003 with a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters, the Board of Governors was given "exclusive power to operate, regulate, control, and manage" the overall state university system.

A state law allowing the Legislature to control tuition is therefor unconstitutional, the complaint states.

"They are violating the will of the people of Florida," Graham said during a conference call with reporters Friday morning. "(The Board of Governors) has a constitutional responsibility."

However, Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, who, along with House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, is named as a defendant in the suit, fired back. He called it "nothing more than an attempt to get unbridled tuition increases."

"God help our students if they win," Pruitt said in a statement. "I don't think voters were trying to turn the Board of Governors into the fourth branch of government."

None of the plaintiffs sit on the policy-making board, but several are university trustees and professors.

One of them, FAU marketing professor Eric Shaw, said university resources have become increasingly stretched in recent years as student enrollment increases.

More money is needed, either from the state or students, to provide quality higher education in Florida, where low tuition has led to high faculty-to-student ratios, Shaw said.

"Classes sizes get larger, faculty teach more and that cuts into their research time," he said. "But mostly you don't have as much contact with students."

Although board members would not comment on the lawsuit Friday, Shaw said he expects them to join the plaintiffs.

The board will take up the issue at a public meeting Tuesday at the University of Central Florida, said Bill Edmonds, board spokesman.

Crist's spokesman said the governor would need to review the lawsuit before commenting.

Meanwhile, Graham said the 20-page lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, has been in the works for a while but was pushed into court now because of the recent tuition increase freeze, which has universities scrambling to tighten their budgets.

"The legislature not only provides taxpayer money but decides what the student contribution will be," he said. "It does it in a way that it makes it almost impossible to have effective management of the university system."


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