March 6, 2020
by Ana Ceballos
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE — A short-lived, yet high-profile, fight to merge New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida died Friday in the state House.
House Speaker Jose Oliva told reporters the chamber “abandoned” the proposal after the Senate refused to go along with the consolidation plan.
“It’s a shame, but it is the process,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said about the demise of the measure (HB 7087).
The proposal, sponsored by House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Randy Fine, would have stripped the independent status of New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University and merged both with the University of Florida.
Fine, R-Palm Bay, argued the controversial move would save the state “tens of millions” of dollars.
But the Senate did not have a bill on the merger issue and showed no signs of moving ahead on it before the scheduled March 13 end of the legislative session.
The state cost-per-degree at UF is $21,598, compared to $197,681 at New College and $180,958 at Polytechnic, according to a House staff analysis of the bill.
“I’m doing this now because it is the right thing to do. Spending is not caring. Spending more efficiently is,” Fine said last month during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.
However, the proposal caught university leaders off guard and prompted fierce opposition from lawmakers in Sarasota and Manatee counties as well as students and faculty who study and work at the universities. New College is in Sarasota, while Florida Polytechnic is in Lakeland.
Students and faculty worried about details that the bill did not address. For example, Fine said he did not know how long the merger would take or the details of the consolidation plans, such as which institution would be identified in diplomas of New College and Florida Polytechnic graduates if the mergers were approved.
The University of Florida declined to comment on the proposal. But according to New College President Donal O’Shea and Florida Polytechnic President Randy Avent, UF officials were caught by surprise when the House rolled out the merger proposal last month.
The House briefly weighed merging New College with Florida State University. But FSU was taken off the table after Gov. Ron DeSantis said it made more sense to consolidate the liberal-arts school with a university that was geographically closer.
FSU declined to comment on the proposal as it was considered.