State lawmakers are repeating the mistakes made in the creation of Florida’s youngest state universities with a rushed plan for the University of Florida to take over the schools.

State lawmakers are repeating the mistakes made in the creation of Florida’s youngest state universities with a rushed plan for the University of Florida to take over the schools.


Florida Polytechnic University and New College of Florida are the newest and smallest members of the state university system. As state Rep. Randy Fine recently said to the Tampa Bay Times, the original intent of making the schools Florida’s 11th and 12th public universities was less than altruistic.


“They were political decisions driven by very powerful legislators at the time,” Fine said. “When we do things largely driven by politics they generally turn out to be mistakes.”


Fine, R-Palm Bay, is sponsoring legislation that would merge the schools with UF, which he touts as a money-saving measure. But in proposing the plan out of nowhere last month, and trying to push it through in the waning weeks of the session despite unanswered questions, Fine risks making the same kinds of politically driven mistakes that he criticizes.


Florida Polytechnic was created in 2012 when it was split from the University of South Florida, which previously operated the Lakeland-area school as a branch campus. The move came at the behest of J.D. Alexander, who was then Senate budget chairman.


Alexander’s company also happened to own a Polk County ranch in the path of a proposed toll road — which was made more viable by the traffic coming from a nearby university. While the road project was nixed at the time, the Legislature approved a toll road with the same route last year despite environmental concerns.


New College in Sarasota was a private school until 1975, when USF took it over when it was on the brink of insolvency. In 2001, then-Senate President John McKay was successful in an effort to split off the school as a separate member of the state university system.


Last month, Fine initially proposed merging New College with Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic with UF. The legislation was later amended to have both schools instead absorbed into UF, due to its Gainesville location being closer to them than Tallahassee. That late change shows the lack of careful planning in the process.


Fine has pointed to figures suggesting that the costs of earning degrees at New College and Florida Polytechnic are more than eight times the cost of earning degrees at UF. But Florida Polytechnic’s president has said the calculation is based on outdated information.


Lawmakers have no idea how much the actual savings of the consolidation would be. Fine has admitted he doesn’t know how long the merger would take or details of consolidation plans, including whether New College and Florida Polytechnic graduates would get UF diplomas.


The presidents of the two schools oppose the move, which their faculty and students have also protested. State lawmakers should put the brakes on the plan until there is more clarity about its impact on those schools as well as UF, lest they repeat the politically driven mistakes of the past.


The Gainesville Sun