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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Scott should veto Polytechnic

Regional lawmakers managed to ward off crippling cuts initially proposed for the University of South Florida, but residents should be outraged that it was put at risk solely to advance the lavish goals of an abusive politician. And Polk Sen. JD Alexander appears to have gotten what he wanted all along: approval of a new university in Lakeland. Gov. Rick Scott should put an end to the disgraceful episode by vetoing plans to establish Florida Polytechnic. A government committed to the responsible use of tax dollars never would tolerate such mischief.
Yet feckless Senate President Mike Haridopolos allowed Senate Budget Chair Alexander to run roughshod over USF in his quest to transform the USF branch campus in Lakeland into the state's 12th university. Granted, it's a relief that budget negotiations between the House and Senate reduced the cut to USF to about $37 million from the originally proposed $128 million. The agreement provides $6 million needed to save USF's pharmacy program, which was jeopardized by Alexander's bullying. Pasco Rep. Will Weatherford deserves credit for defending USF; President Judy Genshaft effectively championed her school's cause. The budget agreement provides $10 million to USF for a "teach out" of students currently enrolled at USF in Lakeland so they can receive their degrees from the accredited major research university where they enrolled. But the arrangement still approves an independent Florida Polytechnic, an idiotic expenditure at a time lawmakers are slashing universities' funding by $300 million. There has never been a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the need for a new university. Its only justification is that the powerful Senate budget chair wants it. The school would be established July 1 — as an unaccredited university with no students, no faculty and no benchmarks for academic excellence. Hardly a formula for success. It will take at least four years for the school to be accredited, something that could have been achieved far sooner if Alexander had not demanded an immediate split from USF. But what is best for taxpayers, students or even Polytechnic itself does not seem to be a concern in Tallahassee. It should be remembered that Alexander's demand for independence began when USF administrators granted Polytechnic only two of the 13 new programs it requested, though starting new programs is costly and the school has barely 1,000 students. USF administrators, wisely, wanted the school to methodically develop a solid academic foundation, rather than taking on more programs than the state could afford or the school could sustain. This foresight and restraint offended Alexander. He intimidated the Board of Governors into approving gradual independence for Polytechnic. But the governors wanted the school to first meet a number of benchmarks, which would have taken five years or so. Alexander couldn't wait, so he sought independence though legislative fiat. He has artfully tied up the funding so that if Scott vetoes Polytechnic, USF's pharmacy school and the funding for USF's Lakeland students might be put at risk. Nevertheless, Scott should stop the Florida Polytechnic farce by vetoing it and finding a way to redistribute funds. The public's tax dollars and Florida's university system deserve more care. It is hard to imagine businesses wanting to invest in a state that treats higher education so disdainfully.
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