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USF Polytechnic flunks Common Sense 101

Welcome to Florida, a strange, exotic land of hucksters where a day without a debacle is a day without sunshine.

Some time Wednesday, the Florida Board of Governors is scheduled to recommend whether the University of South Florida's breakaway banana republic campus in Lakeland is fit to be given its independence as a stand-alone campus.

The answer may be yes, if USF Polytechnic intends on becoming the pre-eminent ivory tower for further research into Three Card Monte Studies, the Bernie Madoff Chair of Misdirection and the J.D. Alexander/Marshall Goodman Institute for Advanced Narcissism.

Otherwise, allowing the rump administration in Lakeland to go off and play by themselves would be like leaving Kim Kardashian without adult supervision at Cartier.

If the governors allow themselves to be played for chumps in permitting USF Poly to hang out its own freshman beanie, you might as well disband the entire cowed board for allowing itself to be hijacked by powerful Polk County state Sen. J.D. Alexander, who has been pushing for the separation for no other reason than … just because.

Or put another way, think of the USF Poly flim-flam as Florida's answer to Greece — only without the ouzo.

There are many complex reasons why Greece teeters on becoming the international equivalent of the Joad family. But firmly at the root of Greece's financial travails is that it fibbed over the size of its draconian debt in order to gain acceptance into the European Union.

Sensing a pattern here?

USF Poly regional chancellor Marshall Goodman has predicated his argument to secede from the Tampa mother ship on a series of projections, claims and champagne dreams that cannot be realistically substantiated. For example, USF Poly's enrollment projection — from 1,300 students currently to 16,000 students in 15 years — is viewed by USF's academic affairs office as (to put it kindly) "unusually high." That is academy-speak for, "Are you nuts?"

USF Poly has made no accommodation for financial aid or scholarships, which is sort of an important detail to overlook. At the same time the renegade eggheads have argued they would rely on a state matching gift program to build facilities, which would be swell if the program hadn't been defunded years ago.

USF Poly also claims its coffers will be overflowing because it intends to charge higher tuition rates than other state universities. Brilliant! Ahem, how many students who otherwise would prefer to attend more prominent (and less expensive) state schools like the University of Florida, or Florida State University, or Tampa's USF campus, would abandon those ambitions to make their way to the hinterlands of Lakeland — and pay higher tuition?

The Tampa USF study concluded USF Poly stupendously overstated actual funds on hand to develop new initiatives by a mere $60 million or so. Who knows? Maybe Goodman's abacus was on the fritz.

In all, a USF analysis of USF Poly's exorbitant claims suggests a Tampa panhandler probably has paid greater attention to a detailed business plan than the inflated Lakeland egos, who seem to have come by their numbers by divining chicken bones, coffee grinds and tarot cards.

The only reason the Board of Governors is even pondering allowing the USF Poly-campus-in-exile to go its own way is because of the political juice from Alexander, R-Big Daddy, along with Goodman's relentless nagging, which has made him the Foghorn Leghorn of Lakeland.

But given the cavalier my-dog-ate-my pro forma approach USF Poly has taken in its appeal to chancellor Frank Brogan and the governors, the board would be on firm ground in flunking Alexander and Goodman for making such a flimsy case to part company with the Tampa campus. They have promoted USF Poly's independence by cooking the books with wishful thinking, political gamesmanship and chutzpah.

If the public is rightly outraged over the $48 million in public monies wasted to build Tallahassee's lavishly appointed 1st District Court of Appeal Courthouse, which was nothing more than a love letter the judges sent to themselves, the USF Poly deal makes the Taj Mahal boondoggle look like understated restraint.

Of the 17 members of the Board of Governors, 14 have extensive and successful private sector business experience, including Tampa developer Dick Beard and St. Petersburg entrepreneur Gus Stavros.

It is inconceivable that Beard, or Stavros, or any of the other 12 executives on the board, would ever make an investment with their own money in a deal so ineptly promoted as the USF Poly plan, which would probably be laughed out of most Business Administration 101 classes — including even at the Lakeland campus.

Alexander and Goodman can poly wolly doodle all day. But this is still a lousy deal for higher education in Florida. By comparison, the Taj Mahal is a humble lean-to.

USF Polytechnic flunks Common Sense 101 11/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:08pm]

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