Saturday, January 20, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: USF learns the hard way not to trust the Florida Legislature

Do you remotely suppose there just might be something rotten in Tallahassee?

Or perhaps the real lesson here is that while you should be afraid, very afraid, when the Florida Legislature goes about its business during the day, it is when the sun starts setting and things grow dark that the gremlins haunting the Capitol go about their mischief.

At the University of South Florida everyone was bopping along, singing a song, secure in the quaint belief that the gathering of beagles in the Florida Legislature would soon bestow pre-eminent status. It is a big deal. Being a "pre-eminent university" would mean USF stood to gain millions in additional funding along with the two other "pre-eminent" schools, Florida State University and the University of Florida.

The prestigious designation would enhance USF's efforts to attract faculty and students and pursue research grants. To become "pre-eminent," USF expected to meet the Legislature's planned graduation rate benchmark of 50 percent within four years, because it is at 54 percent.

USF had good reason to think things were smoothly moving through the Florida Legislature, which was probably its first mistake. After all, the legislation was first introduced in January and had passed House and Senate committees.

But Friday, on page 232 of a 292-page higher education bill, someone had made a slight change, upping the graduation standard to be granted pre-eminent status from 50 to 60 percent. Is not life full of mysteries?

The Florida Legislature had months to dither over the graduation rate question. And yet it was not until the literal final hours of this year's session that the rules were changed, the goalposts moved, the deck stacked.

In any crime a simple question is asked. Who had the means, motive and opportunity to do the dastardly deed? Well, you don't need to be Miss Marple to figure out both UF and FSU certainly had a monetary interest in depriving USF from gate-crashing the largess.

Forgive some cynicism here, but is it possible the Blofeldesque cat-stroking former House speaker, state senator and now FSU president John Thrasher might have whispered into the ears of Senate President Joe Negron? Thrasher, who denies it, may not have stabbed USF in the back. But it's not so farfetched to wonder if he provided the knife. It's merely an idle thought. Probably nothing to it. Never mind.

Remarkably, while USF was being served a steaming pile of Tallahassee cronyism, not one member of the Tampa Bay legislative delegation — Republicans or Democrats — raised a peep of protest that the region's most influential institution of higher learning was being given the bum's rush. We finally have a brief moment of bipartisanship, and it involves a red badge of porridge.

Full disclosure. I am a visiting professor for USF's Honors College, which is made up of the university's best and brightest and highest-achieving students. One of the alluring things about the Honors College is you get to create your own class. And it's entirely possible this episode could inspire a semester dedicated to the duplicity of the legislative process.

Reneging on what seemed to be a done deal in the waning hours of a legislative session is hardly unique to USF. Tallahassee has a long, checkered history of scruple avoidance.

Whether it involved ignoring voter-approved measures such as medical marijuana, or dedicating funds for land conservation, Tallahassee has treated the citizenry as an annoyance to be barely tolerated.

And let us not forget it was House Speaker Richard Corcoran who promised a new era of transparency only to start cutting deals behind the scenes with Negron to the exclusion even of committee chairs. It's tempting to be outraged. But nobody believed Corcoran in the first place. This is Tallahassee, where one's word is … fluid.

It is quite common in university settings for faculty members to require students who miss a class because of a medical issue to bring a note from their doctor. I don't do that.

I tell my charges if they have to miss class because of illness a doctor's note is unnecessary. After all, they are adults. They are also Honors College students. Their word is good enough.

It's a pity — but not surprising — that the Florida Legislature woefully falls short of that standard.

Comments
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18