Fla.'s Newest University Elects Board Chair, Vice Chair

Aug 1, 2012

UPDATED Wed., Aug. 1, at 6:36 p.m.

The formation of Florida’s 12th and newest public university, Florida Polytechnic, comes after protests from several lawmakers and many at the University of South Florida, whose polytech program is being phased out with the creation of the new university. On Wednesday in Orlando, Florida Polytech’s board of trustees met for the first time to learn just what’s expected of them and what challenges might get in their way.

For their first order of business, the eight-member board elected as its chairman real estate investment executive Robert Gidel. Trucking company president Mark Bostick is the vice chair.

Gidel told his fellow trustees that one of his top priorities will be collaborating with the state’s other universities, especially USF, which fought against losing its polytech program during the last legislative session.

“We will rebuild this bridge with the University of South Florida," he said. "That community is where I grew up. They’re very, very important to the success of Polytechnic. And we will work hard to rebuild that quickly.”

The University of Florida will be helping the school hire faculty. But, the board has many immediate pressing issues to address before it can seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Vikki Shirley is the lawyer for the Board of Governors, which oversees the public university system. On Wednesday, she gave the Polytech trustees a laundry list of what’s needed when you build a school from scratch, including a financial aid office, dormitories, information technology services and an internal audit function.

The university, to be located in Lakeland, has nothing now but a building under construction. But by the end of 2016, it will need to complete several steps outlined by the Florida Legislature. They include getting land transferred from the University of South Florida and attracting a student body of more than 1,200, half of whom must focus on science, technology, engineering or math.

Gidel said much uncertainty remains, as trustees hammer out decisions like whether to offer 2-year specialized programs only, or 4-year programs that include general education courses.

“Our first challenge is going to be for all of us to get not only on the same page with a vision that we can recite but understand and believe," he said.

Trustee Scott Hammack, who is the CEO of a cyber-security firm, said he wants Florida Polytech to attract what he calls "high-IQ, risk taking people," not only from Florida but from out of state.

“I think you’re going to have to offer up a free 3-to-4-year education, and what would be great would be a guaranteed job, a job in Florida for two years," he said.

And as the board shapes its vision for Florida Polytechnic, Board of Governors Chancellor Frank Brogan said, he welcomes the chance to potentially improve on the entire state higher ed system.

“This is not only a first, unprecedented, but also has the ability to be a pilot for how others might function if there are great, bold ideas implemented," he said.

The Florida Polytechnic Board of Trustees plans to meet again within a few weeks for its first official meeting. But without a real campus, it must first decide where that meeting will take place.

This story was an update to a previous post, below:

The board of the embryonic Florida Polytechnic University are meeting for the first time for an orientation session with the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the 12-university statewide system, today in Orlando.

The new 8-member board made its first vote, selecting Robert Gidel as its chairman and Mark Bostick as vice chair. Gidel, of Windemere, is a partner at Liberty Capital Advisors, and Bostick, of Lake Wales, is president of Comcar Industries.

The board plans to hold its first full meeting within the next couple of weeks, when it will begin to tackle key steps to be completed before a Dec. 31, 2016, deadline, set by the Florida Legislature. Among the requirements are getting full accreditation and having more than 1,000 students, at least 50 percent of which should be majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Check back here for updates throughout the day and tune in to WFSU-FM 88.9 News for the story during "All Things Considered."