University merger idea falls apart in Florida Legislature
A push by the state House to merge New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida effectively faded away Friday night.
The House reached a point in the legislative session where any measures not fully approved by the chamber are shelved. The merger proposal (HB 7087), which roiled the two universities whose independence was threatened, never came up for a full House vote.
So Florida’s 12 public universities, including the embattled schools in Sarasota and Lakeland, endure.
At least for another year.
“I think the facts of it insist on a review of that idea year after year,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami. “You don’t always get the first thing done … but that’s one of those ideas whose time is going to come. It’s unfortunate that it’s not today.”
The legislation, which seemed to emerge mid-session as the brainchild of Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne, chair of the House Higher Education budget panel, had cleared committees over opposition from students at the schools, college officials and Democratic lawmakers.
Many complained that a bill of such significance should not be jammed through so late in session, with such limited analysis.
“This is the kind of conversation we need to have over a longer period of time; we shouldn’t be rushed,” Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, said at the bill’s final committee stop last week.
Fine, though, defended his idea — saying it emerged after he looked at data on the cost of providing degrees at each of Florida’s 12 public universities. Taxpayers spend far more on each degree produced by New College and Florida Polytechnic than the other universities, leading Fine to conclude they are inefficient and should be folded into UF.
At one point, Florida State University was considered a possible landing spot for New College. But when FSU expressed little interest, Fine’s approach shifted.
Still, the merger proposal also appeared framed as a kind of bargaining chit common to the kind of policy trading that is common between the House and Senate.
New College is in the legislative district of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. And while Galvano said publicly that he was open to discussing the idea of a university merger, losing a hometown college is not the kind of legacy most leaders want.
But with lawmakers racing toward finalizing a state budget and ending the legislative session by next weekend, Oliva said the merger matter will not be revisited.
“If the only thing we were able to do is bring to light that this needs to be reviewed year after year, that’s some success,” Oliva said.