LAKELAND, Fla. - Florida Polytechnic University has no campus, no students, no faculty, and no administration but it does have its first booster group. However, the application deadline for its inaugural Board of Trustees was extended.
Last week, the Board of Governors (BOG) indicated it might have to extend the deadline as applications to serve for the controversial school were only trickling in. On Thursday, with more than 40 applications for five seats, the BOG announced it would extend the deadline to Monday, June 4.
Governor Rick Scott gets to name an additional six members to the Board of Trustees and had received a number of the same applications.
At least 50 individuals have applied for the 11 trustee seats, including some elected officials like Polk Co. Commissioner Bob English. If elected officials, current faculty members, or current administrators are selected for the board, state law mandates they resign their positions to accept.
Also Thursday, dozens of Polk Co. elected and business leaders announced the creation of "Florida Poly Vision," designed to replicate an alumni board for the yet-to-be-created university, the state's 12th.
The group has approximately 70 members - many of whom had supported the Poly split from USF's Lakeland campus from the beginning - with more joining every day.
"It's so important for us to heal...and move on," said Polk Co. Commissioner Melony Bell of the controversial university.
"We know there's been some controversy about creating this university especially on the timetable it's been done," said Florida Poly Vision Co-Chair Vic Story. "But I say to you, it's done. It's here and I think it's important for all of us, especially leaders, to support this university."
Florida Poly Vision plans to give the school a "much-needed voice" during its difficult creation. The BOG indicated the goal of opening in the Fall of 2013 would be a tall task.
But even getting to this point has been a long, tough battle. In April, Florida Gov. Rick Scott approved Senate Bill 1994, which essentially changed "USF Polytechnic" into "Florida Polytechnic," the state's 12th university.
Scott previously told 10 News he didn't think the immediate split was a good idea, but would listen to arguments from the other side. Those arguments included a push from State Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who once told business leaders in Polk Co. that a successful Poly wouldn't happen without him in office.
At Thursday's press conference, Alexander deflected criticism that he stood to personally gain from an independent university in Polk Co.
"I hope as you begin to see this isn't about me," Alexander said. "This is about the idea of how to move our economy and our region and our state forward."
He later told 10 News that perceived funding shortfalls in constructing the new campus were exaggerations.
"I don't believe that the whole story has been told by USF administrators who have said that there is a shortfall in revenues," Alexander said. "The reality is there's $11 million not included in the summary that they gave in carry-forward funds...(and) they have not included the dollars available...that were contributed by Polk Co. government and Polk Co. citizens. And when you add those things together, clearly the $114 million referenced is there."
But USF refuted Alexander's numbers, as it had to do numerous times during the last legislative session. A representative said his claim was categorically wrong and that there were infrastructure shortfalls of $3.6 million, classroom technology shortfalls of $2 million, estimated laboratory equipment shortfalls of $2 million, and several million in other deficits not funded by the legislative bill that separated Poly from USF.
Alexander also criticized 10 News' coverage of his role in the USF/Polytechnic "divorce" and said it forced him to "step back from being involved" in recommending trustees.
Yet, when asked if he had suggested any of his acquaintances should apply for the board, he said, "I've asked about a handful to apply." Alexander said he did not know how many of the applicants so far were his acquaintances since he hadn't looked at the list.
Backers of the new Florida Polytechnic said it will help the state produce science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates.
"As business leaders and as a community, we need to unite and send a strong positive message," said Ingram Leedy, vice chair for Florida Poly Vision, adding that the new university will have a direct focus on STEM degrees "that will have a major impact on our local communities and the entire state of Florida."
Governor Scott has said the state needs more STEM graduates to compete with other states.
Previous Polytechnic Coverage:
5/23/12 - Board of Governors, USF negotiate Poly split
Governor signs SB1994, creates Fla. Poly University
USF deal struck, exclusive interview with Genshaft
Genshaft told Poly accreditation will take 2-4 years
- Alexander actions have some asking why BOG exists
USF students continue #SaveUSF campaign
2/22/12 - JD Alexander: from USF cheerleader to USF critic
- College student warned of Alexander revenge
Gov. Scott tells 10 News he opposes unfair cuts
Budget cuts live, but ''divorce settlement'' brokered
10 News leading charge to #SaveUSF
2/14/12 - USF fears "devastating" 58% budget cuts
2/8/12 - JD Alexander pushes "backdoor" for Poly independence
12/20/11 - Genshaft dismisses USF-Poly chancellor
11/10/11 - BOG grants USF-Poly conditional independence
USF-Poly spends thousands on Star Wars statues
11/3/11 - JD Alexander's bully pulpit