The rivalry between University of Florida and Florida State University may have cooled on the football field in recent years, but it might get hot this year in the State Legislature thanks to lawmakers with strong school ties.
Gov. Rick Scott’s proposes to award the University of Florida $15 million in an effort to boost it into the upper ranks of higher education. That money is tucked in with $118 million for operation expenses, in lieu of a tution increase, and $167 million tied to performance for the 11 universities in the system.
On Wednesday, however, Sen. John Thrasher, who graduated from Florida State University in 1965 and from its law school in 1972, asked Scott’s budget director if other schools, without naming names, could get the same money that UF is getting.
“In higher education, one particular school it looks like you want to get into the top 10 and I recognize that, I assume the governor wouldn’t have a problem with additional funding to help a couple of other universities to maybe move up the ladder a little bit either, would he?” asked Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, said he would refer the question to Scott. Minutes later, Senate Appropriations Chair, Joe Negron, amplified Thrasher’s request, putting it in stark school terms.
“If we’re going to spend $15 million for UF, which I think is a great idea, we should give an equal amount to FSU,” said Negron, R-Palm City, who on the face of it has no dog in this hunt, having graduated from Stetson University. “So I look forward to working with (Sen. Bill) Galvano on that.”
Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. Oh yeah, he also graduated from UF in 1989, FSU’s rival. He said after the meeting that he supports the $15 million boost for UF and that he wasn’t interested in spreading the bonuses to other schools, at least this year.
“We have to get to that point of having a world class university within the state of Florida to break that glass ceiling if you will for our state university system,” Galvano said. “I applaud the governor for taking that step and making that move. If you’re bold with the leading university, it follows that the others will come on line in the future. But when you just try to create some sort of equitable mediocracy, we’re not going to end up with that top tier university.”
So did that mean he didn’t want to provide any money for FSU?
“We need to look at the University of Florida for what it is and the potential for what it has,” Galvano said. “With regard to the other universities, to try to create funding just to create equity within a single year budget shouldn’t be the goal. If we have an opportunity to get that world class university ranking as a state we should do it.”
Afterward, Thrasher clarified his comments. He said he thinks FSU should get the same amount that UF gets.
“I’d be in favor of it,” Thrasher said. “Florida State has a plan. It’s not like they’re just pulling $15 million out of the air. There is a need to have these two universities elevated, no question about it. I’m for everybody being raised up if there are other resources for it.”
No word yet from the House and how its leaders feel about UF vs. FSU. But keep in mind, House Speaker Will Weatherford's brother, Drew, was a star quarterback for the Seminoles. And his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, now sits on the Florida State University Board of Trustees.
In other words, don't count FSU out just yet.