Florida Board of Governors (BOG) member Norman Tripp smiled Wednesday as the University of North Florida Student Union filled with members of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee, appointed to improve the lives and education of college students across Florida.
Chief topics presented in the discussion were increased university research funding and campus safety, especially regarding sexual assault.
Multiple committee members addressed campus security, suggesting students can’t attain higher education and conduct research if they aren’t safe to do so.
“Our goal is that when a parent sends their child to our system, we do our best to see that they’re safe, educated, not harassed or hazed,” Tripp said. “No matter what school they go to, the administration of each school is open to dealing with issues and protecting students fairly.”
One part in improving campus safety is amending and strictly enforcing Title IX, a law that calls for equal opportunities in education, regardless of sex.
Vikki Shirley, General Counsel for the BOG, gave a presentation on Title IX reforms that would create a balance in conduct across the State University System when dealing with cases of sexual assault.
“It is important that students understand the importance of gaining consent from their partner,” Shirley said. “We looked at definitions of ‘consent’ within the system and outside of the system. This helps provide clarity in disciplinary proceedings.”
One of the other changes proposed applies to the current legislation that bans information on sexual assault victims to anyone except investigators. The change would allow other parties access to sexual assault details if they were able to aid the victim.
Shirley’s presentation also called for a succinct definition of a “responsible employee,” or one who reports knowledge of a sexual assault.
Ensuring that reforms took place across the entire system was one of the challenges facing the committee.
“We will drive the system so no matter where a student goes, they’ll have same rights and obligations,” Tripp said.
When Kevin Bailey, vice president of Student Affairs at the University of West Florida, approached the podium with a message of anti-hazing, Tripp embraced a similar sentiment of system-wide accountability for enacting anti-hazing protocols.
David Norton, the vice president of research at the University of Florida, discussed the importance of research on education in Florida.
Increasing research funding, he said, has a threefold benefit: it leads to better instruction from professors who want to further their research, more funding from the government as valuable research becomes profitable and increases Florida’s stake in education.
Norton said increasing research and development funding could lead to the next iPhone, Google or eventually a cure for Alzheimer’s.
“This is the path to prosperity for our state,” Norton said.
“Creating the future and making a difference capture what research universities are all about,” he said. “They strive to make a difference, to positively affect our state, nation and world by creating the next generation of thinkers, doers and discoverers.”
Wednesday’s meeting was the first part of the two-day Florida BOG meeting. On today’s agenda, the board members are expected to discuss budgeting, online learning and whether USF can go through with building a new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa.