Some Florida State University professors have been circulating a parody map showing the campus of the future, with a new Bigfoot Institute, a School of Astrology and a Crop Circle Simulation Laboratory.
It’s a not-so-subtle jab in a growing debate over a proposal to build a chiropractic college on this campus — the first such school at a public university in the nation.
More than 500 professors, including the university’s two Nobel laureates, have signed a petition opposing the school and a handful have even threatened to resign rather than teach alongside what they consider a “pseudoscience.”
$9 million proposal
The dispute — the biggest academic furor in recent memory at Florida State — is heading to a showdown decision later this month, pitting FSU faculty and doctors against chiropractors and powerful lawmakers who pushed the $9 million proposal through the Legislature.
T.K. Wetherell, the normally blunt president of Florida State, has been unusually reticent on the chiropractic flap, deferring to his provost.
“There’s a small number of faculty who would like it to happen, there is another group of faculty who would like it to die as painful a death as possible, and then there’s another group that has a lot of concerns that they would like answered before anything else happens,” provost Larry Abele said.
Supporters of the school, which would add 100 faculty members, say the affiliation with a major university would quickly make it the nation’s premier program and a magnet for federal grants in alternative medicine.
But the parody map sums up the views of many faculty — and physicians. They worry that chiropractic isn’t based on real science and that such a program could hurt the university’s academic reputation.
Last week, the faculty committee that oversees curriculum voted 22-0 to stop the proposed chiropractic program until it at least had a say-so in the decision.
“There’s no demonstrated need. We have more chiropractors than any other state except California and New York,” said Ray Bellamy, a local orthopedic surgeon and associate at the medical school.
For now, the 38,000 students at Florida State have largely stayed on the sidelines in the debate, although a few exercise physiology majors have spoken out in support of the school.
Chiropractors cry foul
For chiropractors, the issue is bigger than just the fight at Florida State. It’s part of an ongoing battle to win respect and credibility in the medical community for their profession. A chiropractic school at FSU would supply a long sought affiliation with an established university and a major boost.
Chiropractic, which focuses on manipulating the spine to lessen back pain and improve overall health, has won wider acceptance over the years; it’s now covered by most health insurance plans.
But in the 110 years since the profession was created, the established medical community has largely boycotted it — challenging its scientific validity in courts and legislative bodies. In 1990, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the American Medical Association guilty of conspiracy to destroy the profession.
“Chiropractic falls under the same umbrella as any number of therapies including homeopathy, naturopathy, meditation, prayer,” said Dr. Bill Kinsinger, an Oklahoma anesthesiologist and longtime critic of chiropractors who is working with Florida doctors to block the new school. “There’s no more evidence for chiropractic than there is for any of these other therapies.”
The Florida Chiropractic Association says it’s unfair for opponents to try to deny them the opportunity to create the school.
“On the one hand, they say there is no science behind what we do,” said John Van Tassel, a Tallahassee chiropractor who tends to Florida State’s football players. “At the same time, they’re trying to prevent the very research (at a university) they say is needed.”
The furor has called into question the authority of the university system’s Board of Governors, which faces a decision on the standoff Jan. 27. The fledgling board, which was created in 2002, has been accused of bowing to the wishes of the governor and the legislature on higher education issues.
Gov. Bush signs off on project
While not an outspoken supporter, Gov. Jeb Bush signed off on the chiropractic school proposal in the last legislative session to appease the House speaker and Senate president.
Former Senate President Jim King of Jacksonville — a Florida State alum and a key supporter of the school — has suggested budgetary retaliation if professors at his alma mater don’t get in line behind the project. Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon said that won’t happen.
“I’m offended ... by the appearance we were a bunch of bullies,” Lee said. But he conceded the school’s approval was “political patronage.”
Lawmakers have a history of using their political clout to help Florida State — which is about a mile from the state Capitol. Wetherell, who attended the university, was the House speaker when lawmakers approved millions of dollars to expand the school’s football stadium. John Thrasher, now chairman of the Florida State trustees, was speaker when money for a medical school was approved.
Everyone from Bush to the Legislature has a stake in the battle that could ultimately determine who has the power over the state’s public university system.
While the board of governors and individual university’s trustees have their own squabbles about who does what, the Legislature has the money. And even members of the medical community opposed to the chiropractic program admit the fight is largely about dollars.
Last month, a former chancellor and two constitutional attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging too much power remains in the hands of the individual boards of trustees at each university and the present arrangement gives lawmakers too much freedom to push pet projects that aren’t needed.
At this point, no one has made any decisions.
“The chiropractor school to me is a small issue compared to the broader issues of governance,” Bush said. “If we trip over the chiropractor school, we’re focusing on the small thing rather than the big thing.”