Gov. Rick Scott’s renewed interest in the State University System should be both exciting and terrifying for the University of Florida.
His interest first manifested itself through a clumsy swipe at anthropology majors and a higher education commission that made recommendations that went nowhere.
The governor’s more recent embrace of new state funding to help UF become a top-10 public university has been a more promising development, suggesting that he’s listening to university officials. Yet Scott’s battle against a small tuition increase based on the rate of inflation has essentially been a one-way conversation about his own rigid ideology.
The governor has spent an inordinate amount of time pressing university presidents to try to stop the legally mandated increase. He made the laughable claim that tuition hikes are the same as tax increases in a column that he wrote for the website of the conservative National Review magazine.
It all seems excessive for a 1.7 percent increase that would do little to change UF’s standing as one of higher education’s biggest bargains. The increase equates to $4 more per credit hour for undergraduates.
It’s disingenuous for Scott to cite past tuition hikes as justification for opposing this one. He signed into law one of the previous increases, which universities used to help plug the massive budget hole caused by state cuts.
By using his current opposition to tuition hikes to solicit campaign contributions, as the Palm Beach Post reported that Scott did this month, the governor has shown his main concern is getting re-elected.
Now Scott is justifying his position with a report on Florida universities by the James Madison Institute, a free-market think tank, and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group whose founders include Lynne Cheney.
Despite the report’s telling fixation on supposed speech codes at universities, it does contains some legitimate points about issues such as university mission creep. Scott issued a press release focused solely on the report’s recommendation that universities restrain growth in tuition.
One of his appointees to the Board of Governors seemed to be reading straight from the report when he questioned UF officials at a board meeting this week about university requirements in civics. While there’s a valid discussion to be had about the need for such subjects, the idea that political appointees would be dictating university coursework is worrisome.
As UF spends its new funding, let’s hope that Scott recognizes the difference between accountability and politically motivated meddling. Otherwise, UF may find the new money comes at a steep cost.