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Committee recommends FSU relocate embattled film program from West Palm to Tallahassee

It’s only been up and running for a year, but the Board of Governors is poised to order a move for Florida State University’s animation and digital arts program. A special committee voted today to recommend that the nascent program be relocated from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee to join with the rest of FSU’s film school.

That vote occurred after three hours of passionate testimony from West Palm Beach city officials and leaders of FSU’s film school, who tried to make the case for allowing the program to remain there. But without a business partner or clear plan to move forward, the committee's three members said it doesn’t make sense for FSU film students to remain in South Florida.

“We should not ask our students and their parents to risk their own future and fortune on something so undefined,” said Mori Hosseini, the Board of Governors member who chaired the committee.

The full Board of Governors will take up the committee’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting. Contacted Friday evening, FSU President Eric Barron repeated his promise that the school would abide by whatever the board decided.

FSU's animation and digital arts program has been in limbo ever since its main business partner, Digital Domain Media Group, filed bankruptcy in September. The company had received $20 million in government subsidies and its failure was a blow not only to FSU but to the state’s efforts to use incentives to woo companies.

Committee member Thomas Kuntz, also a member of the Enterprise Florida board, said the collapse of Digital Domain is regarded as the state’s greatest economic development failure.

FSU students matriculating through the animation and digital arts program pay $18,000 a year, three times the amount they would if it were located in Tallahassee. That is because it was set up as a special continuing education program instead of a traditional bachelor’s degree.

Frank Patterson, dean of the FSU film school, said the South Florida location made it easier to recruit faculty and industry leaders to bolster the program. The inability to find a partner to replace Digital Domain was blamed partially on the uncertainty surrounding the program’s status there.

It would cost FSU about the same amount to move the program to Tallahassee as it would if it were to remain in West Palm Beach.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio fought hard to get the committee to see things her way. She noted the millions of dollars that had been dedicated to setting up and maintaining the program and said the goals went beyond academics.

“We believe strongly that this is about jobs and building an industry cluster," Muoio said before questioning whether the Board of Governors was the right body to determine the ultimate fate of a program so closely tied to the region's economic development. She pledged to work with Enterprise Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity and Gov. Rick Scott’s office to save the partnership.