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Gov. DeSantis keeps open mind on university plan

Florida Polytechnic University was created as an independent university in 2012 -- the newest of the 12 institutions in the State University System of Florida and the state's only university focuses solely on STEM education.
Florida Polytechnic University was created as an independent university in 2012 -- the newest of the 12 institutions in the State University System of Florida and the state's only university focuses solely on STEM education. (Photo by Ziggymarley01 via Wikimedia Commons)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a controversial university consolidation plan for the first time Thursday, saying that while he is not endorsing the move, he is “open” to discussing plans that can save money for the state.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican who is sponsoring the bill (HB 7087), said Florida could save “tens of millions of dollars” if New College of Florida is merged into Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic University is folded into the University of Florida.

DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee that he doesn’t know “what FSU’s interest in that is.” He added that based on location, it would make more sense to have New College, a Sarasota-based liberal arts college, merge with the University of South Florida in Tampa, rather than Florida State, which is located in Tallahassee.

Florida State officials declined to comment on what the university thinks about the consolidation plan, but New College President Donal O’Shea said Wednesday that FSU leaders told him they oppose the proposed bill.

The University of Florida has not weighed in on the plans.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Wednesday he wants to have a discussion about the mergers, even as university leaders and lawmakers from Sarasota and Manatee counties raise concerns about a lack of data and time to vet the plan.

The governor said he is aware of the concerns but would also like to consider ways to make the state’s higher-education system more efficient.

“At the end of the day, I think we have a lot of good things going on with the universities, but we can’t necessarily be all things to all people, so if there are ways to do it that are more efficient, I am certainly willing to look at it and discuss it,” DeSantis said.