Even though the existing 11 state universities are facing $300 million in cuts, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that will immediately turn the USF Polytechnic branch campus into the 12th independent university, Florida Polytechnic University.
For a governor who was elected on a fiscally conservative platform and advocates for the state to tighten your belts, according to WESH Orlando, the move is the epitome of hypocrisy and a missed opportunity for the governor to prove that he can stand by his word.
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was able to summarize the main problem with the bill in fewer than 140 characters on her Twitter account: Creating a 12th University while cutting the budgets of the other 11. Makes no sense poor public policy.
There is nothing fiscally responsible about approving Florida Polytechnic, which has no enrolled students, faculty, accreditation or buildings, and giving it $33 million of the state budget while cutting all established state universities by $300 million in funding. Polytechnics new campus will cost $90 million to $100 million just in its initial stages, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Scotts argument, then, may be that the cost is worth it for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities. In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Scott said Floridas current universities that offer STEM courses are not projected to meet workforce needs, citing Florida Polytechnic University as an entity that will help us move the needle in the right direction.
But this idea does not stand up to scrutiny, either. Included in the language of the bill, which was pushed by Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, is a provision where the University of Florida would serve an advisory role to Florida Polytechnic University.
Yet, according to Forbes, when faced with a $3 million cut to its College of Engineering, UF dropped its computer science department in an effort to save about $1.7 million. Meanwhile, UFs $99 million athletics budget increased more than $2 million from last year enough to more than offset the savings supposedly gained by cutting computer science, according to Forbes.
Scott showed poor judgment in allowing Alexander and UF, which does not seem to prioritize STEM learning, to essentially take Polytechnic away from USF, one of the fastest growing research institutions in the nation. Furthermore, voters may view the move as submission to Alexander, a UF alumnus who called USF Polytechnic students University of Florida wannabes, according to the Times.
Though Scott has already made his ill-advised decision, USF, which will absorb all USF Polytechnic instructors once all remaining students graduate, should hold strong to its commitment to STEM education. As with any ugly divorce, the ultimate revenge would be for USF to become a more successful version of itself and show Lakeland what it is missing out on.