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New Poly rallies support in final days of USF involvement

With applications for Floridas newest universitys Board of Trustees due today, the hotly contested Florida Polytechnic University that came about after the dissolution of USFs Polytechnic branch campus has found some support.

The group of Polk County business and community leaders that initially called support for the plan of an independent Polytechnic university in a letter sent last July have formed a group called Poly Vision to express support for the new university and take the place of its Board of Trustees until that is created.

During a press conference Thursday, Cliff Otto, president of Saddle Creek Corp. and Poly Vision co-chair, said the group, which has about 70 members, is growing by three or four members per day.

All of us are committed to creating a needed, positive voice for Floridas 12th university, Florida Polytechnic University, he said. Anything that the Board of Trustees would like assistance with that falls into the categories of trying to recruit the right professors, trying to recruit the best students (or) fundraising to support the new university, those are the types of things this organization would be involved with.

The deadline for applications to Florida Polytechnic Universitys Board of Trustees is today at 4 p.m., extended from its original May 31 deadline. The Board of Governors must fill five trustee seats, and have so far collected more than 40 applications. Gov. Rick Scott will appoint six members.

Two weeks ago, the BOG voted that USF would stay involved in the Polytechnic transition for three months after a Board of Trustees is chosen. The BOG indicated USF could use its $8 million in reserve money to cover the costs until it can be reimbursed by Florida Polytechnic University.

USF spokesman Michael Hoad said in an email to The Oracle that during the transition, USF will protect itself as well as its responsibility by being fiscally prudent.

At Poly Visions virtual press conference, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who was credited at the conference as the visionary behind the independent university, said a Polytechnic university is needed in the state to improve the economy.

Alexander, chair of the Florida Senate Budget Committee, publicly expressed his support for an independent Polytechnic and distaste for USF leadership multiple times over the course of the last legislative season, and helped create the bill that spawned an independent Polytechnic.

I hope as you begin to see, this isnt about me, he said. This is about the idea of how to move our economy and our region and our state forward, he said. For too long, Florida has been an economy based on industries that are important like agriculture and tourism and home building, but we havent had the broad-based economy in this region and in this state that I believe we need to sustain the quality of life that will help Florida fulfill the promise that we all hope for it.

Alexander said after spending 14 years in the Legislature and two of those years as education appropriations chair, he worked with universities across state and encouraged them to expand STEM training, and all promised to do it.

We had 17 percent of graduates graduating in STEM eight years ago, and now we have 17 percent graduating in STEM, he said. This effort is important because it is a very clear effort to change that dynamic and to grow those minds young minds that are trained to create the technology and innovation that will drive our state and our economy.