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News Clips 01/11/2013
Scott gains more control of universities with new appointments
Source: Orlando Sentinel, 01/10/13
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By Kathleen Haughney
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday made five new appointments to the 17-member State University System's Board of Governors, asserting his control and influence over the board's future role in governing the state's 12 universities.
More importantly, they give Scott extra voices on the board at a time when he, university officials and lawmakers are locked in a debate over the future of the university system and the cost of tuition, which has risen by $2,251 per year during the past five years.
Scott named former Broward Health Chief Executive Alan Levine; Huizenga Holdings President Harry "Wayne" Huizenga Jr.; Palm Beach Gardens attorney Wendy Link; former IBM executive Ned C. Lautenbach; and Edward Morton, partner of investment firm Wasmer Schroeder & Co.
The appointees will replace longtime board members Tico Perez, John Temple and Gus Stavros. The other two vacancies existed because Ava Parker and Joe Caruncho left the board before their terms had expired. Board member Norman Tripp's seat is also expiring, and the Governor's Office said it was still under review.
The loss of Perez, a Central Florida attorney who did not reapply, is particularly hard for University of Central Florida, where Perez was once a trustee.
But UCF does have other supporters on the board. For example, the board member representing university students — the chairman of the Florida Student Association — is UCF student-body President Cortez Whatley. The board member who represents university faculty statewide is Manoj Chopra, a professor of civil engineering at UCF.
The appointments from Scott are critical, as the board now includes eight of his nominees and his commissioner of education, meaning he essentially controls the group. The remaining board members are holdovers from former Gov. Charlie Crist's tenure, plus the student and faculty representatives.
Scott's picks for the five seats all appear to be supporters of his administration. Levine served on his transition team, and Huizenga Holdings donated $200,000 to Scott's "Let's Get to Work" campaign fund.
He previously had appointed Lautenbach to the Florida Transportation Commission, and Morton, a former health care executive, lives in Naples as Scott does. Link was previously appointed to the Palm Beach State College district board of trustees by Scott.
That loyalty likely will be key for Scott in the coming months as he and the Legislature have signaled that changes to higher education are a top priority for the 2013 session. Though lawmakers have been fairly coy about their plans, Scott has been crystal-clear about one thing:
He does not want to see tuition increases.
"What else has gone up 15 percent year after year after year? Nothing has. Nothing else costs that much money," Scott said in an interview last month.
Scott, who made his new appointments Thursday without comment, has made higher-education affordability the center of his higher-education stump speech.
He publicly challenged the state-college system to create $10,000 degrees as a way to keep costs down at those institutions. And at a cabinet meeting in December, he questioned how middle-class families could be expected to plan for college when the price of a four-year-university plan under the Florida Prepaid program is $53,000 or $331 per month.
That $53,000 figure takes into account that universities are allowed to raise tuition by 15 percent each year.
But Scott's goal of keeping tuition down could create tension with the 12 public universities. During the past few years, state lawmakers have repeatedly cut their budgets — by $300 million last year — and the universities have relied on higher tuition rates to fill in the gaps.
And yet even with those rates, they've been forced to cut classes, faculty and programs across the board.
Still, Florida's in-state tuition is considered a good deal compared with universities across the country. Florida's average annual tuition rate for 2012-13 is $6,059, while nationally it is $8,655, according to the College Board.
The College Board also says Florida's in-state tuition rate is the 11th-cheapest in the country, and the University of Florida is the sixth-cheapest flagship university nationally.
Top-tier public institutions across the nation charge much more. The University of California-Los Angeles is charging $12,692 for the current school year, and the University of Virginia is charging $12,006.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that would have allowed University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition by more than 15 percent as a way to bring more money into the state's top research institutions and help them compete with research universities such as UCLA or UVA.
But Scott vetoed the bill, saying students could not afford that type of increase. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said lawmakers may revisit the issue.
The veto had a ripple effect. The Board of Governors engaged in a long debate last summer over the cost of higher education and whether major tuition increases should be granted. In the end, Florida State, Florida A&M, the University of West Florida and University of North Florida were denied the 15 percent increases that they sought.
In December, university presidents held a news conference at the Florida Capitol, where they pledged not to increase tuition if lawmakers increased their funding by $118 million.