Florida Polytech panel meets amid uncertainty

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A committee formed to oversee the transitioning of the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus into a 12th public university met Wednesday for the first time since Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill overhauling that process — and warned that the measure might have made the move more complicated, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

As an example, the committee, formed by the Board of Governors before Scott signed the bill (SB 1994), soon found itself wondering whether a board of trustees for Florida Polytechnic University would be formed in time and thinking about the details of the relationship between USF and its Polk County outpost.

“We now are taking a different approach to the same end, but it is not just as simple as shifting to another gear,” Chancellor Frank Brogan said.

Brogan and other officials urged patience with the process for creating the school, a major aim of outgoing Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

“It has to be about not just creating things along the way that will give us a 12th university, in this case Florida Poly. … Quality takes time,” he said.

Alexander’s bill was touted as a way to accelerate a process for making Florida Polytechnic an independent university. But officials with the State University System said the overhaul was more far-reaching than that, and the new proposal could actually increase the time it takes to make the school a freestanding institution.

Among the problems: the Board of Governors has currently received just four applications for the five spots it must fill on the new school’s board of trustees — though would-be board members have another week to get their names into the mix.

“We don’t have enough applications yet to fill our five vacancies,” said Vikki Shirley, general counsel for the BOG.

Mortez “Mori” Hosseini, who chairs the board’s committee on independence, said the governors shouldn’t be rushed to name trustees despite a July 1 launch date for the independent Florida Polytechnic University.

“This is going to take time for us to get the best,” Hosseini said.

Members of the board committee also grappled with questions about how much authority they could exercise over the Lakeland campus’ existing obligations, given that the bill included a provision tying $10 million in funding for USF to the decision to hand over most of the property held by USF Polytechnic to the new university.

Meanwhile, USF officials said an investigation into administrators at the Lakeland campus continues. The investigation has uncovered evidence that top leaders mismanaged the campus, particularly a business incubator there, but those under investigation have said it’s payback for their efforts to support independence.

“As we continue to uncover things, we’ll have to continue to act on those things,” said R.B. Friedlander, the school’s deputy general counsel.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.