Florida House raises questions about funding at UCF, other universities

by

comment
PHOTO BY KEONE VIA FLICKR
Laying the groundwork for a more austere higher-education budget, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday heard more than three hours of testimony on university spending and the use of foundations by the schools.

Committee Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said that over the past decade, state funding for the 12-university system has increased by $1.4 billion.



"Do we really think, and there are 30 members of this committee, it is lack of funding? Or do we really think it might be some misappropriation of money?" Trujillo told reporters after the meeting.

Among the issues, the committee members questioned the transfer of more than $50 million in state funding from the universities to their foundations in the 2015-16 academic year. Similar amounts were transferred in prior years.



"I think the House's position is going to be very clear, that the amount of money we've put into the system, the system has almost run wild," Trujillo said.

Trujillo's comments put the House on a collision course with the Senate, where Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is pushing an ambitious plan to bolster the higher-education system, including the expansion of Bright Futures scholarships. Other portions of the Senate initiative anticipate funding boosts for programs to attract top-quality faculty and to reward high-performing medical, law and business schools.

Most of the House committee's focus was on university foundations, including the transfer of state funding to the foundations. Foundation representatives testified the state funding was used to support personnel who help with fund-raising and other activities.

But Trujillo and other lawmakers questioned whether the foundations had the legal authority to transfer the state dollars.

"Clearly we've got an issue we need to deal with," said Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who is an accountant.

Richardson said state funding for the universities should go to student activities and learning, while foundation activities, like fund-raising, "should be paid for by the foundation and should not be paid for with the appropriated state dollars."

Committee members asked the universities and foundation officials for more details on funds being used to supplement salaries for faculty and for details on expensive trips funded by foundations.

Among the trips, Trujillo pointed to an $11,283 trip to Dubai last year paid for by the University of Central Florida foundation that included a $6,701 first-class plane ticket.

While university officials said foundation funding, which is largely private, is used to send researchers and scholars on trips related to their fields of study, Trujillo said he wanted to see more justification for the expenditures.

"We don't know if there was really a return on that investment," he said. "I think that's troubling."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.