Sunday, May 20, 2018
Editorials

USF Poly: boondoggle and baggage

The plastic slide, unlimited soda fountain and expensive Star Wars statues are the trappings of a regional college campus run amok. But the real outrage is that Gov. Rick Scott embraced the fantasies of the egomaniac who championed this foolishness and stands accused of fostering a hostile work environment at the University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland. Former USF Poly chancellor Marshall Goodman locked arms with Sen. JD Alexander to insist that USF Poly become an independent university, and the Legislature and the governor meekly met their demands. The more the spotlight shines on Goodman's little fiefdom, the worse the governor's judgment of people and policy looks.

USF's two-month ethics review of USF Poly reveals an arrogant operation with no regard for purchasing rules or respect for taxpayers. Public money disguised as rental payments paid for perks such as the soda fountain. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology purchases were made without approval from the main USF campus in Tampa. Thousands more were spent to rent or improve buildings without proper accounting. And questions about the $10,000 in Star Wars statues or the adult-sized plastic slide between floors at a USF Poly business incubator were answered with yelling and threats. Yet Goodman's attorney had the gall to characterize the review as vindictive.

USF's investigation was triggered by an anonymous complaint from the Lakeland campus about Goodman and the business incubator. The more investigators looked, the more irregularities they found and the more USF Poly employees came forward to describe Goodman's intimidation and culture of fear. The report reveals how the former chancellor ran the campus like his personal playground, spending freely, hiring his son for a job he was unqualified to perform and bullying anyone who dared to complain. No wonder Goodman and Alexander were outraged when USF president Judy Genshaft removed Goodman in December and replaced him with accountant David Touchton, who had sought to slow down the rush to independence for USF Poly. The last thing they wanted was a fresh look from someone who would play by the rules and could be trusted by USF Poly employees to listen to them.

Goodman's supporters complain about the timing of the release of the report, just days after Scott signed into law the creation of Florida Polytechnic University. They're right. It should have become public during the legislative session. Perhaps then a few more legislators would have stood up to Alexander, the powerful chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who muscled millions into the state budget for the new university and was not going to leave Tallahassee without it.

Instead, generations of Florida taxpayers will be paying for a new university the state cannot afford. Two high-ranking USF Poly administrators who worked under Goodman face being fired. Goodman, who should be under further investigation, has more explaining to do. So does the governor. Scott met privately with Goodman and Alexander before he signed the bill into law that creates the new university. Now he shares their boondoggle and their baggage.

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