Since his inauguration in January of last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott has been making enemies out of voters by consolidating control and money into his hands, especially when it comes to the economy and funding state-supported programs. However, one of the more recent fights to give Scott more power has been pushed forward less so by the governor and his staff, but by two state universities, the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU). The House Joint Resolution 931 and its corresponding Senate Bill 1508 seek to remove the democratic power of the Florida Student Association (FSA) to elect its own student representative on Florida’s Board of Governors for Higher Education (BOG). The real kicker is that there seems to be a lot of support for it.
Michael Long, the current chairman of the FSA, student representative to the BOG and second-year president of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA), has been working tirelessly to prevent either of these bills from passing. He spends weekends, and occasionally weekdays, traveling to the ten other Florida state universities to meet with other student bodies and presidents, and more recently, back and forth between his home in Sarasota and the Capitol in Tallahassee at least a dozen times in the last two months. He has written and submitted countless opinion articles to different state newspapers, most recently to The Alligator, UF’s independent student newspaper, to garner support for students — all while attempting to pass his current classes.
“Currently, nine other universities, not just their student governments, but the university administrations, oppose [these bills],” Long told the Catalyst in an interview. “The only two that support [them] are FSU and UF […and] two-thirds of the legislature graduated from FSU or UF. So it’s very obvious why they would be gaining a lot of traction.”
Long is emphatic that this is not a legislature-driven issue, but one driven by the university lobbyists of FSU and UF and supported by the alumni in the Senate and House.
“They’re doing this because they know their students will be consistently appointed to serve on the BOG, more so than any other university,” Long explained. “And this is incredibly disappointing to me. I am the first student representative to ever serve on the BOG from New College. This creates a process that absolutely requires legislative influence to employ. Universities such as Florida Gulf Coast, University of North Florida, West Florida, New College — we will all be at an incredible detriment because our universities don’t wield legislative influence, like FSU and UF.”
The student representative on the BOG is one of two representative positions, and represents more than 320,000 students in the state of Florida, the second being the faculty representative, who is elected by the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates. The job of the student representative is to advocate for the students in matters such as Bright Futures, tuition rates, the implementation or increase of fees and other similar issues. Yet, if the appointment becomes gubernatorial, the student representative would be no longer be held accountable to students, but to a governor who supported a 20 percent decrease in Bright Futures and a 15 percent increase in tuition.
“The public reason that [FSU and UF] are citing [against the FSA] is that it is a private, pay-to-play organization,” Long described. “In years past, the FSA has charged a nominal due structure — this year it was $8,500 per university. That amounted to a $70,000 total operating budget which funded events like Rally in Tally, which is the only student-driven event for students at universities to bring themselves to the capitol and participate in the legislative process.
“But maybe FSU has a point,” Long continued. “If they feel that this organization is exclusive because of the financial commitment, regardless of the fact that they have a $15 million student government budget, regardless of the fact that they pay $15,000 in their [Athletic and Services] student fees for a lobbyist when [the FSA] is only asking $8,500 to represent students in the state, regardless of all that, if they feel that that $8,500 financial commitment prevents them from being part of this organization, we’ll acknowledge that. We changed the organization’s constitution which required a four-fifths vote [and it] now reads that membership in this organization shall be open to nominally elected student body presidents from universities in the Florida state university system. There’s no longer a financial commitment tied to it. There is nothing preventing FSU from being part of this organization, yet they aren’t, and they still support a gubernatorial appointment because they know students from UF and FSU will have a much higher likelihood of being appointed by the governor than a student at New College.”
Long emphasized that he does not believe that the general student bodies at FSU and UF would actually support the bills, but their student government leaders do support it and thus present a biased view to their constituents. Nonetheless, working with Senators Montford and Altman, he hopes to bring this issue to a close with the students on top.
“I am incredibly optimistic that the bill will not pass as proposed,” Long stated. “I’m working with a few different members of the Senate to propose an amendment that would guarantee the students have the ability to select their representative.”