In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: FIU deal benefits connected exec

Suppose some South Florida enterprise was in need of expert help designing an online MBA degree program to appeal to students across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Just where could they find the international connections, business education credentials and technical know-how?

First stop, no doubt, with be the outfit that bills itself “the business school for The Americas,” and “South Florida’s most important education resource and recognized leader in international business education.” An institution proclaiming that technology “permeates every aspect of what we do, from our curriculum content to our instructional delivery.”

Florida International University boasts the institutional resume and faculty expertise to pull something like this off.

Except it’s FIU that’s hiring an outside consultant. A Texas company called Academic Partnerships has been hired to do for FIU what FIU could do itself. And probably better.

“We could do this. We have plenty of people with connections to universities over Latin America,” insisted Brian Peterson, one of FIU’s founding professors who joined the faculty 40 years ago.

If FIU, with all that all that expertise and all those international connections, couldn’t manage to gin up the FIU Global business degree program without outside help, one might wonder what the hell the school has to offer its students, other than three initials on an online diploma.

But the university administration is working out a contract with Academic Partnerships to market the program, in return for a sizable chunk of the $37,500-a-head tuition. FIU rammed both deals through without bothering to consult its own faculty. Peterson, despite his position as interim chair of the faculty online review committee, said he only learned crucial details Monday by reading The Miami Herald.

The story by The Herald’s Michael Vasquez also provided some pretty good clues about why FIU would outsource FIU Global. With a no-bid contract at that.

The FIU deal was like so much else in Florida. It’s like those hinky contracts awarded to providers of mandatory online high school classes. Or the private for-profit companies hired to run the publicly funded charter schools. It’s the same explanation behind the rush to privatize prisons. Or why a certain company gets to erect electronic billboards on public land.

Randy Best, the Texas business man behind Academic Partnerships, has something far more compelling in Florida than mere business expertise. He has political juice.

Best, who was a major fundraiser for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, scored big with contracts spawned by Bush’s No Child Left Behind. And when congressional investigators charged that his company’s contracts were based on politics and financial ties rather than merit, it hardly affected his business plan.

And what matters in Florida are Best’s close ties to the Bush family, particularly former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican establishment. FIU may have plenty of expertise around campus. But Randy’s got the juice.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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