Though Gov. Rick Scott had previously expressed doubts about creating a 12th Florida university while the current 11 are receiving budget cuts, a bill awaiting his signature could do just that.
SB 1994 was initially proposed by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, with help from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and proposes to immediately dissolve USFs Polytechnic branch campus to create an independent state university Florida Polytechnic University.
Scotts press secretary, Lane Wright, said to The Oracle that Scott is still in the process of making his decision. Florida law states that he must sign or veto bills within 15 days of receiving them fore they turn to law by default. Scott received the Polytechnic bill March 9.
Gov. Scott has said he will review what has come out of the Legislature by way of funding and direction before taking a position, he said.
Though it sailed through the Legislature with little questioning as the House and Senate finalized their budgets, the bill has left many with unanswered questions.
If the governor vetoes, what happens to the current campus? USF spokesman Michael Hoad wrote in an email to The Oracle. What happens to pharmacy funding? Dont know. If he approves, what does a teach out really mean to the current campus? And what would it mean for Polk County students: Florida Polytechnic would have to select a board and a president, and then hire staff, which could mean a long gap before students would see an option in Polk County for a Poly degree.
The Board of Governors approved Polys separation in November, but created a five-year timeline for it to meet certain criteria first, such as achieving accreditation and meeting enrollment requirements. To achieve accreditation, the new university must graduate a class of students, and enrollment could begin as soon as Scott signs the budget.
The bill provides for a five-year teach out, which allocates a recurring $10 million to allow all existing Poly students to finish their degree at the existing location before all faculty are returned to the USF System.
Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, questioned the appropriations of funds to the unaccredited, faculty-less Florida Polytechnic when legislators voted to approve the budget March 9.
So theres $10 million for the USF students, then $22 million for Polytechnic, which right now doesnt have any students? she said during their meeting.
According to the Legislatures budget, Florida Polytechnic, which will now receive a recurring $22 million, was cut from the previous years allocations to USF Polytechnic.
Hoad said USF, as a state entity, would have to follow whatever actions the Legislature decides.
The hard part for the current campus of USF Polytechnic is the waiting, he wrote. Its been very difficult, unable to predict whether they should plan for full speed ahead, a teach out or a shut down. And right now, no one knows. As a result, its hard to plan. There are several options coming out of any decision by the governor, much of which would have to be worked out over the next couple months to actually implement.
Hundreds of letters opposing the bill have poured onto Scotts desk over the past few months, but now Polytechnic student Mike Nacrelli said the campus seems to be in a funk.
Last Friday, USF Polytechnic Student Government planned to rally a busload of students outside the governors office. Yet Nacrelli, a senior majoring in psychology, said they couldnt gauge enough interest to fill half a bus.
We were already an apathetic campus, and then things started to look like we were banding together to resist anything to destroy our school, he said. But theres so much misinformation still. There are still administrators not (current regional chancellor David) Touchton telling students, Dont worry. You dont have to get involved. Everythings already decided. Theres nothing you can do. And thats not true. We have a lot to do, and were citizens of the state with the right to influence the governor.
But students are less sure about what exactly they hope to see from the governor, Nacrelli said.
It looks like what is on the table for the governor to decide is damaging, but helpful and its really difficult to say, he said. Wed like him to line-item veto several things. Our wish is that he vetoes the entire bill, but that could be a problem itself for everybody but us. We dont want the whole economic stability of Tampa Bay to be compromised because of our campus, but we hate whats going on.