Monday, January 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Another higher ed power play

Florida taxpayers already are paying for one engineering school in Tallahassee, and they should not have to pay for two. A sudden plan to dismantle the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and create separate schools is a power play by an influential state senator and Florida State University alumnus to hand FSU its own engineering school. This is another example of the Legislature letting raw politics rather than sound policy rule higher education. It circumvents the established route for setting education spending priorities, stands to cost taxpayers millions and should be stopped cold.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, an FSU alumnus and a potential candidate for the university's presidency, set aside $13 million in the Senate budget to begin the process of dismantling the engineering college and creating separate colleges for each university. Supporters of the plan, including FSU interim president Garnett S. Stokes, say the idea fits with the university's goal to become one of the top 25 public research schools in the nation. A stand-alone FSU engineering school, Stokes contends, would allow the university to create new programs with other schools already on FSU's campus and to recruit more prestigious faculty.

But Florida A&M supporters understandably fear that splitting the engineering college, which was founded in 1982, would ultimately starve FAMU of resources and result in the shuttering of its engineering program. Five former FAMU presidents oppose the split and want the Legislature to put more money toward the existing school. FAMU president Elmira Mangum also does not support the divestment. Early plans call for FAMU to keep both its share of the money now going to the joint engineering schools and FSU's share. But among FAMU supporters there is little confidence in the long-term sustainability of that plan. FAMU leaders estimate that the cost of building a new school on its campus would be at least $100 million.

Thrasher's proposal understandably raises eyebrows among FAMU supporters who have long questioned the state's commitment to the school, Florida's only public historically black university. There is reason for their concern. In 1968, FAMU's law school closed when the Legislature stopped funding it and transferred support to FSU's newly opened law school. FAMU's law school was reinstated in 2000 with a campus in Orlando and was backed by Thrasher, who was then House speaker.

Legislators have learned nothing from the Florida Polytech University debacle. It was created two years ago to satisfy another powerful senator, and it will have an engineering school. Now here we go again. As legislators negotiate a final state budget this week, the House leadership should not go along with Thrasher's FSU grab. If two engineering schools in Tallahassee is such a good idea and worth investing tens of millions in public money, then it will be a solid plan a year from now after the Board of Governors, trustees from both universities, students and the public have vetted it.

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