UF, FSU face off over Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $15 million bonus

The rivalry between the University of Florida and Florida State University is heating up over millions of dollars Gov. Rick Scott is proposing in next year’s budget.

To the chagrin of FSU boosters, Scott is proposing $15 million exclusively for UF as part of an effort to lift that school into the nation’s top tier of higher education. Scott announced the award during the unveiling of his $74.2 billion budget proposal last week.

The bonus to UF, which would be spent on hiring new faculty, persuaded President Bernie Machen to postpone his retirement last month. Machen said Scott’s focus on UF, and UF alone, was appropriate until other schools could show they can compete.

“It is time for the Legislature to recognize that performance counts and other institutions should not be equally rewarded unless they can compete on the same level,” Machen said in an email to the Times/Herald. “Equal reward for equal performance. Just look at the data.”

But during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday, a faithful FSU alum objected.

Sen. John Thrasher, who graduated from FSU in 1965 and its law school in 1972, asked Scott budget director Jerry McDaniel for equal compensation. Along with the UF bonus, Scott's higher education spending package includes $118 million in a base funding increase and $167 million tied to performance for university system. But Thrasher focused on that $15 million only UF is being offered.

“I assume the governor wouldn’t have a problem with additional funding to help a couple of other universities to maybe move up the ladder a little bit either, would he?” said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. McDaniel said he would take the question back to Scott. Sen. Joe Negron, the appropriations chair, emphasized he supports Thrasher’s request.

“If we’re going to spend $15 million for UF, which I think is a great idea, we should give an equal amount to FSU,” said Negron, R-Palm City and a Stetson University graduate.

Yet parity between the two schools will be detrimental to the goal of making UF an elite institution, said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the Senate’s education appropriations committee.

“We have to get to that point of having a world-class university within the state of Florida to break that glass ceiling if you will for our state university system,” said Galvano, who graduated from UF in 1989. “I applaud the governor for taking that step and making that move. If you’re bold with the leading university, it follows that the others will come on line in the future. But when you just try to create some sort of equitable mediocrity, we’re not going to end up with that top-tier university.”

No word from the House on how its leaders feel about UF vs. FSU. But House Speaker Will Weatherford’s brother, Drew, was a star quarterback for the Seminoles. And his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, sits on the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

FSU President Eric Barron said it makes sense for his school to be included in the conversation.

“The way I see it, this was an opportunity for Florida to keep Bernie in place and it was only natural for Florida State to step in place and be included,” Barron said.

Last week, Barron began circulating his own plan for moving FSU into the list of the nation’s top 25 public universities. Right now, according to U.S. News and World Report, UF is No. 17 and FSU is No. 42. That plan includes hiring more faculty in STEM fields, increasing the focus on business and entrepreneurship among all majors, and increasing the student retention and graduation rates.

Barron’s plan calls for $15 million a year for five years, the same as has been promised to UF.

“For me, this is just another very natural thing,” he said.