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USF Poly purchasing choices are out of this world

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 00:11

Not long ago, at a regional campus not so far away, USF Polytechnic decided to boldly go where no public university had gone before and spend $10,000 on four life-size, "museum quality" sci-fi figurines.

USF Polytechnic already faces a potential financial audit, requested by two state senators after news broke that the school spent $140,000 on a promotional video and $500,000 on a documentary about the construction of its new, multimillion dollar campus, designed by world-famous architect Santiago Calvatara.

This latest news is just icing on the cake. You couldn't ask for a better example of how to misspend money.

According to a USF memo, the campus also spent nearly $1,000 having the movie statues appraised. A statue of E.T. was valued at $3,800; a "Star Trek" captain's chair, complete with a wooden cutout of Captain James T. Kirk, at $2,200; a Darth Vader statue, with cape and lightsaber, at $7,200; and a "Star Wars" stormtrooper at $8,200, though it was missing a hand in its picture.

The combined appraised value of the statues was $21,400. At least Polytechnic got a good deal.

The USF memo justified the purchases as "necessary to encourage the creative culture for business development partnered success." It is hard to imagine any situation in which a life-sized Darth Vader would be considered "necessary," especially in an academic setting.

The statue acquisitions were largely paid for by the Central Florida Development Council, a nonprofit funded by local businesses and governments, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Though the sci-fi statues would make an appropriate addition to Polytechnic's futuristic new campus design, they were purchased to furnish the Lakeland campus' Blue Sky Studio — a high-tech media lab that also features a $217,000 video monitor wall, according to Channel 10 News.

The statues would contribute to the overall atmosphere of Polytechnic's "business incubators," which are creatively designed spaces with bright colors, modern furniture and even a slide, and are "meant to encourage inspiration beyond conventional thought," according to the memo.

The incubators were supposedly inspired by Google Creative Labs and "strive to be something different, innovative, progressive and creative."

How that inspirational process will work is unclear. Perhaps Polytechnic students will be struck by flashes of genius while reclining in Captain Kirk's lap or hanging out in "‘think spaces' that resemble English telephone booths."

More likely, these labs will amount to another example of overambitious spending by a small campus that is already jeopardizing its future by attempting to split from the USF System.

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