Negron pitches plans to university system leaders
By Magie Menzel
The News Service of Florida
Incoming Senate President Joe Negron on this past week addressed members of the state university system’s Board of Governors, reiterating plans to bolster higher education during his two-year term and asking their help in putting “the final touches” on his agenda.
The Stuart Republican repeated his goals — outlined in a December speech upon his designation as the next Senate leader — of helping state universities move to “national elite” status, shoring up their infrastructure and ensuring that “financial insecurity” doesn’t prevent Florida students from completing degrees in a timely manner at state schools.
He also repeated his pledge to work toward a billion-dollar increase in higher-education funding during his Senate presidency, which is slated to start after the November elections.
Additionally, Negron made clear — in response to a question from Board of Governors member Dean Colson — that he sees a bright line between the board’s role in governance and the Legislature’s role in appropriating money.
Colson noted that the Board of Governors disburses or withholds certain funds based on the performance of individual universities.
“And if I’m a university president or chair of a board of trustees, I’m sitting there saying, ‘The best way for me to bypass all this is to get a representative to be an appropriations chair or speaker of the House or a Senate president,’ ” Colson said. “That happens too much, I think. Do you have any advice for us on how to handle that?”
“I’m pretty jealous in protecting the appropriations process and our ability as the Legislature to make decisions about what buildings to build, what particular programs to be funded,” Negron replied. “I want this to be a partnership, but … I do think we have different roles.”
For instance, he said, lawmakers would not be checking with the Board of Governors before, say, allocating money for a new student center at the University of West Florida.
“I’m content with the current system,” Negron said. “I’m staying out of governance. I hope that we’ll work together. … But I would never want to give up our role to ultimately make the budget decisions.”
As to online courses, which the Board of Governors has been expanding, Negron had some reservations.
“Let’s just be cautious,” he said. “Learning is a communal exercise. …There is value in being in a classroom setting and sitting next to smart people from your country, from other places in the world, who completely see the world differently than you (and) have different opinions.”
He warned that “you can’t get an entire university education on the internet and have it be the same quality” as a mixture of classroom and online courses.
“This idea that the computer has now replaced how we learn in its entirety … I reject that premise,” he said.
Negron and members of the Board of Governors referred often to his April tour of the 12 universities in the state system, which confirmed his interest in beefing up merit-based scholarships such as Bright Futures and need-based scholarships such as the Florida Student Assistance Grants.
He said that when students are forced to work 40 or more hours per week while attending school, that affects the four-year graduation rate. He added that his goal is for students not to face financial barriers to attend colleges where they have been accepted if they work part-time and their families contribute to the cost of their degrees.