Florida Poly sets it sights on the Senate, Ron DeSantis in bid to save school’s independence

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Trustees are turning to the Senate and the Governor for help.

Florida Polytechnic University is gearing up for the legislative fight to save its independence.

The school’s board of trustees is figuring out its new game plan now that the proposed committee substitute to HB 7087 that would merge Florida Poly and New College of Florida into the University of Florida is headed for a House floor vote. It passed the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday 17-11, a nearly party-line vote. All of the committee’s Democrats voted no. St. Cloud Rep. Mike LaRosa was the only Republican to vote no.

It’s sponsored by Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine. He argues it will save the state money on the cost of degrees by consolidating the state’s smallest universities into UF.

Florida Poly’s Board of Trustees figures the House is already lost and it’s time to focus on the Senate. Trustees say they’ve met with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff a few times about the legislation since it was filed earlier this month. 

“I think what we’re trying to do is do what we can in the House, but we’re not going to make much of a dent there,” one board member said. 

Kathy Mizereck, Florida Poly Assistant Vice President of Government Relations, pointed out what Florida Politics and others took away from Tuesday’s hearing: no one from the public, nor any Republican voting in favor of the bill spoke in support. There also has not been a cost benefit analysis. 

“What’s really important that we need to ask is that the members of the Legislature hear your voice,” she said. “The worst thing we can do is be in a position where they say they didn’t hear from us.”

While there’s no Senate companion bill, there are at least a couple vehicles where language could possibly be added. Sen. Manny Diaz is sponsoring SB 774 that would allow university president searches to be done in secret. Sen. Kelli Stargel has a bill (PCS/SB 72) that modifies provisions relating to state research universities, capital projects at Florida colleges, operational funds at state universities and colleges, student financial aid, and textbook affordability. But Stargel is a Lakeland Republican whose district includes Florida Poly, and has already signaled she opposes efforts to merge the university in her district. 

Florida Poly disputes Fine’s and the Board of Governor’s degree cost calculation. Fine argues the cost is $180,958. Florida Poly President Randy Avent says the number “was calculated based on our first graduating class, which was our smallest, and includes nonrecurring costs associated with starting the university and building its campus.”

“Our projected cost per degree this year is less than half that amount and will continue to decrease as we grow the student body,” he explained.

The school officials praised the professionalism of the students who are lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the school. They compare their behavior with some representatives from New College, who they argue are making personal attacks on lawmakers. Recently Parkland mass shooting survivor and New College student Emma Gonzalez tweeted “It was borne of incredible, and I mean Incredible, stupidity.”

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]

One comment

  • observer

    February 26, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Extremely disappointing that FLPOLY decides to begin dividing support between themselves and NCF. This likely has something to do with the fact that the case to merge or close FLPOLY is significantly more popular among supporters of the merger than the case to merge or close NCF. Unfortunate for them, but it is entirely inappropriate for them to attempt to cast NCF aside in this battle.

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