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News Clips 02/11/2013
FSU’s digital program should move to Tallahassee, committee decides
Source: Palm Beach Post, 02/09/13
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By Kimberly Miller
A state university governing committee voted unanimously Friday to uproot Florida State University’s digital and media arts program from West Palm Beach, despite pleas from city and school officials who said the move will cost jobs and future business partnerships.
If the decision by the three-member committee is approved by the Board of Governors at its Feb. 21 meeting, a plan to move the fledgling program must be developed by May 1.
That means a likely $2 million loss to city taxpayers who gave the cash to FSU’s failed partner Digital Domain. The money then flowed through to the university to create the bachelor’s degree in animation and digital arts.
The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s public universities, has expressed concerns about FSU’s program staying in West Palm Beach without Digital Domain. One committee member referred to Digital Domain as the worst economic deal in Florida’s history.
The committee members said they couldn’t ask students to continue to pay thousands of dollars in tuition each year with just promises that other companies, including one known only by its code-name Pod 15, were interested in collaborating with FSU in West Palm Beach.
“Why should we believe the outcome with these companies will be any different than with Digital Domain, which many believe was an industry giant and now no longer exists in the state of Florida,” said committee chairman Mori Hosseini. “We should not ask our students and their parents to risk their own future and fortune on something so undefined.”
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, who met Hosseini before the 2 p.m. meeting at the University of Central Florida, told the group that the city had $6 million dedicated to attracting businesses that would create jobs. She promised the $250,000 approved by the city commission to help pay the program’s rent through August, and said the city hired an economic development director especially to riff off FSU’s program and create an industry cluster of media arts companies in West Palm Beach.
For its part, FSU unveiled its new Digital Media Research Institute, which spent 18 months talking to film industry professionals about how the program should proceed, and which would seek out collaborations with businesses. Neither companies nor faculty want to go to Tallahassee, school officials said.
But it wasn’t enough. Toward the end of the three-hour meeting, with hard-hitting questions being lobbed at film school Dean Frank Patterson, Muoio went to the podium and told committee members she didn’t think they were the appropriate people to hear their case.
“As I listen to this, the more I understand it is about economic development and I’m not sure this is the body that should be making decisions about economic development,” Muoio said. “We believe strongly that this is about jobs and building an industry cluster and we will continue to pursue it in any way we can.”
Muoio said after the meeting she plans to lobby Gov. Rick Scott and go to economic development groups for help in continuing to pursue the creation of a media and digital arts stronghold in West Palm Beach.
She said she thought the committee’s decision was short-sighted and predetermined.
“That was a prepared statement,” she said about Hosseini’s closing argument to move the program. “That decision was made before we got here.”
FSU’s digital arts program has 25 sophomores enrolled at its West Palm Beach campus. There are also 19 students in the freshmen class, which spends the first year in Tallahassee.
FSU President Eric Barron, who has supported the West Palm Beach-based program, did not attend the meeting. FSU Provost Garnett Stokes did attend. State University Chancellor Frank Brogan drove from Tallahassee to be there.
“At the end of the day, trying to take one bad scenario that didn’t play out for anyone and quickly reinvent and cobble together something similar with people who maintain they are fascinated and enthusiastic, isn’t necessarily a good plan,” Brogan said.
The Board of Governors has had longstanding problems with FSU’s move to West Palm Beach. The plan never faced a formal vote or vetting from either FSU’s own trustees or the Board of Governors. Approval from the oversight groups wasn’t necessary when the partnership between Digital Domain and FSU was being formed.
Some members said they didn’t like that it encroached on Florida Atlantic University’s territory, or that students were paying thousands of dollars more for the program than traditional students. Freshman pay $6,574. But that jumps to $22,829 when they move to West Palm Beach as sophomores. It dips to $14,808 by the time they are seniors.
At least one mother agreed with the committee’s decision.
Diane Marshall, who wrote a letter to the Board of Governors in late January, said her son is a freshman in the program and that he wanted to join because of its partnership with Digital Domain. Other companies mentioned as potential partners, including Watermark Medical in Boca Raton, hold no interest for him, she said.
“We think this program needs to pull in the reins and essentially start over,” said Marshall, who estimates the cost for her son to move to and go to school in West Palm Beach at $38,000 the first year. “We see a very successful FSU film school in Tallahassee and nothing but a mess of a program in West Palm Beach.”