Will Weatherford calls for Board of Governors involvement in engineering school debate

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In the debate over separating the joint Florida A&M University and Florida State University College of Engineering, House Speaker Will Weatherford says the Florida Board of Governors must remain a key part of the discussion.

Over the next few days, as part of budget negotiations, lawmakers will have to decide whether to split up the school, after the Senate set aside $13 million in its proposed spending plan to create a separate FSU College of Engineering.

The Board of Governors, which is directly responsible for overseeing the state’s university system, made no mention of the proposal when it submitted its budget request.

“They are kind of the regulatory oversight body of the higher education system,” Weatherford said on Thursday, “and I think that their voice should matter quite a bit in this conversation.”

However, Weatherford stopped short of calling for a vote by the board, or that the House wouldn’t ultimately agree with the Senate plan.

“My goal is that whatever takes place — whether it’s a conversation driven by the Board of Governors or the Legislature — that FAMU is unharmed and that Florida State is unharmed, and that there’s a way to do this that is amicable, a way that both universities can flourish, and a way that both universities can provide high-quality engineering degrees for their students,” he said.

FSU supporters are pushing for the split, citing a separate engineering school will put the university in an elite group of public universities. FAMU backers strongly disagree.

Florida A&M, the state’s historically black public university, closed its law school in the 1960s as a similar facility opened at FSU.

FAMU representatives and alumni, haunted by the memory of the law school closing, fear that splitting up the engineering college might result in less funding for the school or possibly shutting down.

Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron stood firm on his chamber’s proposal as he heads into negotiations with his counterpart, House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel.

“I think we can take … one good College of Engineering that we have now and have two great schools long-term,” Negron told reporters. “So I’m still committed to that.”

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.