TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott reshaped the state university governing board Thursday, stacking it with five like-minded Republicans whom he expects to heed his opposition to new tuition increases.
Overnight, the 17-member Board of Governors became a clearer extension of Scott's philosophy that raising tuition is too big a burden for middle-class families.
Scott has made opposition to higher university tuition a line-in-the-sand issue as he embarks on a quest for re-election in 2014.
"I'm going to appoint people who believe the way I do, that we've got to look at every way we can to figure out how to keep tuition as low as possible," Scott said in a recent interview.
Most of the appointees received seven-year terms, meaning they will be setting higher education policy after Scott leaves office, even if he's re-elected.
Scott's choices include three men from Naples, where he has a home, and the son of one of his biggest campaign contributors. They are:
• Harry Wayne Huizenga Jr., 51, of Delray Beach, president of Rybovich Boat Co. and Huizenga Holdings, the firm founded by his father, former Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga. The elder Huizenga in May gave $250,000 to the governor's re-election campaign in addition to $200,000 in 2010.
• Ned Lautenbach, 68, of Naples, retired partner in a New York equity firm and for 30 years before that an IBM executive who holds an MBA from Harvard. Lautenbach and his wife, Cindy, were members of Scott's inaugural committee and donated $25,000, the maximum allowed; he also gave $15,000 to Scott's re-election committee, Let's Get to Work, in April in addition to $40,000 to the Republican Party. Lautenbach's term is for six years because he is filling the unexpired term of a former board member.
• Wendy Sartory Link, 48, of Palm Beach Gardens, an attorney and managing partner of Ackerman, Link & Sartory and chair of the Florida Healthy Kids Corp.
• Edward Morton, 65, of Naples, a former health care executive with NCH Healthcare Systems. He has a master's degree from Florida Gulf Coast University and an MBA from the University of Miami.
• Alan Levine, 45, of Naples, senior vice president of Hospital Management Services of Florida and former secretary of health for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Levine, who once worked in Pasco County for the hospital chain Scott founded, holds a bachelor's and two master's degrees from the University of Florida, where he serves as a trustee.
Levine last year voted in favor of a 9 percent tuition hike for UF students and said that tuition there has been a "bargain" in Florida. But from now on, he will follow Scott's lead, he said.
"The governor made it very clear to me. He does not want to see tuition go up," said Levine, who has a child at UF. "He's the governor. It would be inappropriate for me to veer very far from that."
Sartory Link, a Scott appointee to the Palm Beach State College board of trustees, said she voted last year not to raise its tuition and shares Scott's views.
"I don't know enough yet about the basis for what the universities would need tuition increases for, but my inclination is tuition needs to be as low as it possibly can," she said.
A native Floridian, she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and Duke University law school. She said UNC's in-state tuition was very low when she attended in the 1980s, a time when the school's reputation for excellence grew.
"I don't think there's a direct correlation between the amount of tuition and the quality of education you get," she said.
Tuition at Florida's 12 state universities has risen steadily in recent years, but remains on average among the lowest in the nation. University presidents have cited a decline in state support — including a $300 million cut in funding last year — that they say, coupled with low tuition, has made it harder to compete against other states to hire top academic talent.
The university presidents last month promised they would not seek new tuition hikes if the Legislature allocates $118 million more based on a series of performance goals.
The new members can begin serving immediately, and the board's next meeting is Jan. 16-17 in Gainesville. All of the appointments require state Senate confirmation. Scott, who appoints 14 of the Board of Governors' 17 members, still has one opening to fill. Left unresolved is the seat held by Norman Tripp, 74, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, and the only one of four lame-duck board members who sought a new term.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 567-2240.