A sweeping overhaul of Florida’s higher education system has shaken up responsibilities throughout the state, and one student leader – handed more responsibility than he ever knew he would have – says he’s ready for the challenge.
USF’s student body president, Mike Griffin will now sit and vote on the newly-appointed Board of Trustees, the local-control replacement for the now-defunct Board of Regents.
Griffin will be USF’s only student voice on the board. In fact, he will be the only voting member of the board who is from USF at all (President Judy Genshaft will serve as corporate secretary for the board, but will not actually vote on decisions).
This change effectively gives the student body president a vote on university budgets, new degree programs and collective bargaining agreements – and even some control of Genshaft’s job.
This is a huge level of responsibility for Griffin, 20, though he is no stranger to being a student leader. He served as student body president for two years while attending Walter L. Sickles High School, as well as sitting on various education boards around the county and state.
As a junior majoring in marketing, Griffin has remained involved with Student Government and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. But he said he never expected this level of responsibility when he was campaigning to become student body president last year.
“It absolutely surprised me,” Griffin said. “The reorganization task force was adamantly against having a voting student member. So did this ever cross my mind? No, I thought it was such a long shot.”
While the task force was deciding how the new Board of Trustees would function, they had decided that the student body president should sit on the board, but not be allowed to vote.
But at the 11th hour, Sen. Les Miller (Tampa), Sen. Lee Constantine (Altamonte Springs) and Sen. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (Pembroke Pines) added to the bill a provision giving the student body president at each of the 11 local boards a vote, according to Kathy Bentancourt, university lobbyist.
Griffin learned of the change the day he and student body vice president Dave Mincberg took office.
“I was moving that weekend, so I wasn’t reading the paper or using the Internet,” Griffin said. “When I got in on Monday, my first official day, I had 10 voice mails. Eight were asking if I knew I was on the Board of Trustees.”
With the added responsibility by default as SG president, Griffin said he is only slightly daunted, and will focus on doing the job at hand as fairly as possible.
“I have two hats, and they’re two very big hats,” he said. “They’re two different jobs. Not only will I fight for the rights of the students, I need to find out what’s in the best interests of the university.”
While serving on the board, Griffin said he hopes there is some focus on spending tuition money on the more aging and cramped parts of campus.
“As far as tuition and fees, a lot of items I want to see get done are student related,” he said. “I want a new fine arts facility. There have been some fine arts students say ‘I’m upset that I’m not being represented.’ I think the College of Fine Arts is a mess right now as far as buildings go.”
And although 11 of the 12 newly-appointed trustees are Republicans, Griffin said he doesn’t expect the board will be overly partisan.
“I’m pro-USF, and my appointment to this is non-political,” he said. “I have my own political philosophies, but I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of the university. It’s kind of like county commissioners – ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ doesn’t really have anything to do with it.”
The key to getting things done for the students, he says, will be in communicating effectively with his fellow BOT members.
“I’m good at sitting down in a committee and making decisions that help people my age,” he said. “I do have experience in that sense. I always say my plan might not be ideal, lets work together and find common ground.”
According to Griffin, part of doing his job will come from listening to everyone and trying to make the most informed decisions possible while considering the university community as a whole.
“People may not always agree with me, but I’m not going to make a decision without doing my homework,” he said. “I want to represent people at USF – from the custodians to the president of the university. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”