The governor suggests that the school is too small to support a university's administrative functions.
By BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001
ORLANDO -- Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday he has strong doubts about the wisdom of making the University of South Florida's New College an independent school, and called for a "heartier debate" of the proposal.
Bush said the well-regarded liberal arts college in Sarasota, which has only 650 students, is too small to support the wide range of administrative functions required of a university.
If the only answer to that problem is to pay more to educate students at New College than elsewhere, "then you start seeing the inequity of this idea," Bush said.
This year, the state is paying almost $15,000 per student to underwrite New College course work. That's almost twice the cost of educating undergraduates in the rest of Florida's university system.
The governor's statements, delivered after a meeting with university presidents, were his first concerning the fate of New College. Depending on how they are received in the Legislature, they could have significant implications for USF.
The bill that would make New College the state's 11th public university is a key piece in a larger deal that USF officials hope will allow them to maintain control of their regional campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
It's unclear what would happen to the other components if the New College legislation, which is being pushed by state Senate President John McKay, is voted down.
That may not even be possible: All of the USF-related bills have been attached to the legislation overhauling Florida's system of education governance and likely will rise or fall with it.
When told of the governor's comments, USF President Judy Genshaft said she thought it "would be be very sad if New College were to be spun off."
She said USF, which took over the college in 1975 when it was on the brink of insolvency, helped raise it to national prominence. She said it is welcome to remain under the university's umbrella.
"But if the situation is one where they have to be split off, we'll be good neighbors," Genshaft said.
In other matters Thursday:
The presidents told Bush the universities will need at least $15-million to pay for transition costs generated by the reorganization, which eliminates the state Board of Regents and transfers much of its power to new university boards of trustees.
The state university system currently handles the schools' payroll, health insurance and retirement benefits. Those are among the functions that would have to be transferred to the university level if the reorganization is approved.
Bush said he expects to have all 110 university trustees appointed by July 1, a process already under way. "In terms of significance and importance, I would put this at or above appointments to the judiciary," he said.
Bush said politics would play no role in his selections.
Bush said he would oppose letting every community college in Florida offer four-year degrees, an idea working its way through the Legislature.
He said it would be appropriate in limited circumstances, such as when a community college, the neighboring university and the community itself agree there is a need.
St. Petersburg Junior College is seeking to offer four-year degrees beginning in the fall of 2002 in education, nursing and several technical fields.