The folly of immediately creating a new public university to satisfy one powerful state lawmaker was obvious enough when the Legislature approved it and Gov. Rick Scott signed off. Now terrible public policy is morphing into absurd reality as education officials wrestle with the details of winding down the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus and creating the new Florida Polytechnic from scratch. The closer you look, the worse it gets.
On Wednesday, a select committee of the Board of Governors started trying to make sense out of the mess created by the governor and the Legislature. It's one thing for Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander to insist upon a new university that the state does not need and cannot afford. It's another to look behind the new law that establishes Florida Polytech on July 1 and see how Alexander conned his legislative colleagues and the governor into believing in a fantasy.
First, the foolishness of immediately severing ties with USF and creating a new university with no faculty, buildings or accreditation is clearer than ever. Applications to be appointed to the Florida Polytech board of trustees are just trickling in, and those trustees will select the school's first president. University chancellor Frank Brogan said the search for a president could take at least six months. And it's impossible to recruit faculty members or attract students without appointing the leadership to determine the scope and direction of the academic programs. The idea that Florida Polytech will start accepting students in the fall of 2013 is laughable.
If the timeline is unrealistic, the cost to taxpayers forAlexander's parting gift is an outright lie. More than $50 million has been allocated this year and next in the state budget, but that doesn't begin to cover the expenses that already are piling up. The $10 million earmarked to USF to keep teaching its remaining students in Lakeland next year is millions short. Construction on the first phase of Florida Polytech's fanciful campus is projected to be over budget by perhaps $14 million. Architectural fees alone are up to more than $12 million. With Alexander thankfully term-limited out of office, will the governor and the Legislature keep throwing millions into this money pit while the 11 established universities are starved to death?
There has got to be a better way. Former Gov. Bob Graham led the drive for the constitutional amendment that created the Board of Governors to oversee the state university system. The board is supposed to set higher education policy and serve as a firewall to prevent legislators from building unneeded medical schools or new universities as monuments to themselves. Graham said this week that the Legislature's creation of Florida Polytech violates the amendment approved by voters and is unconstitutional. The appropriate plaintiff to file that lawsuit, he suggested, would be a member of the Board of Governors whose authority has been usurped.
It only takes one board member to say "enough" and ask the courts to stop this nonsense. It only takes one with the courage to stand up for Floridians who don't want their millions wasted on a pretend university.