Wednesday, May 10, 2017

FAMU, USF hurt by local lawmakers who didn’t contest proposals that harmed the schools, but helped Thrasher

Back in 2015, Florida A&M University lost control of the then $12.9M FAMU-FSU College of Engineering (COE) budget. This legislative session, a last minute bill change resulted in the University of South Florida to miss out on $10M it expected to receive by finally gaining “preeminent” university status.

Both legislative proposals that led to those harmful effects went uncontested by local lawmakers who represented FAMU and USF. Florida State University President John Thrasher ended up being the big winner in each case.

FAMU controlled millions for the COE from 1987 to 2015. But in 2015, the Florida Legislature shifted the $12.9M COE appropriation from the FAMU general revenue line to a new budget entity. Then-FAMU President Elmira Mangum joined Thrasher in stating that a new Joint College of Engineering Governance Council would call the shots on the COE operating budget. That made it possible for the FSU representatives and BOG Chancellor Marshall Criser, III to out-vote FAMU on budget decisions.

The shift of the money to the new budget entity wasn’t battled by State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) or then-Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) whose districts both included FAMU. Both lawmakers also showed no signs of caring about the calls by former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, the chair and vice-chair of the FAMU Board of Trustees, and the leadership of the FAMU National Alumni Association for that budget control to be given back to FAMU.

Montford was also quiet back in 2014 when Thrasher, who was then a state senator, tried to split the COE in a way that would have been harmful to FAMU.

USF was set to become a “preeminent” university this year and split $48M with FSU and the University of Florida. But a late session deal supported by many Tampa Bay-area legislators has ended USF’s chances to achieve that in 2017-2018.

An editorial by the Tampa Bay Times entitled “Legislature’s secret deal unfair to USF” described what happened.

“USF expected to meet the Board of Governors' requirement this year that at least 70 percent of its students graduate within six years,” the editorial board wrote. “It also would have met a different goal lawmakers have been talking about for months, having 50 percent of its students graduate within four years. Without warning, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran agreed to move the goal posts late Friday. They changed one number on page 232 of a 290-page bill, raising the required graduation rate within four years to 60 percent.”

The Daily Stampede, an online media community for USF supporters, was even more critical. It wrote a headline saying: “Florida Legislature Moves Goalposts To Screw USF.”

A total of 22 Tampa Bay-area lawmakers voted in favor of the bill (SB 374) despite the many USF alumni and community supporters who lobbied against the new 60 percent graduation requirement.

Thrasher claimed he had nothing to do with the last minute changes that cost USF preeminent status. But the fact that his university won’t have to share part of the preeminence funding pot with USF next year certainly helps him.

FAMU and USF were let down by their local lawmakers who helped Thrasher get easy victories over those two universities. 

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