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Amid Criticism, Scott Uses Higher Ed Summit To Push For Faster Graduation


Governor Rick Scott has kicked off his higher education summit, but the shindig is already under fire from critics who say it’s missing something—educators.

Wednesday’s discussions ranged from changing how Florida measures student success, to guiding administrators on circumventing unions when agreements aren’t reached.

“My message is simple today. As we think about innovation and as we hear some opposition, its’ always great to sit down and negotiate with your unionized workforce and get to an agreement that everyone’s happy with. That would be ideal. But if that’s not the case, you have options. You have options in management rights. And you can get to your priority through the impasse process," labor attorney Michael Mattimore told attendees.

“Wow…well, that’s a good way to make higher education better," Jennifer Proffitt a Florida State University Professor and president of the faculty union, United Faculty of Florida, said sarcastically. 

The conversation around collective bargaining came after an earlier discussion about teacher and faculty morale.

“I think it’s consistent with Scott’s message about jobs," said Proffitt, "but it also seems that the stakeholders, when it comes to public education and the public good, all the stakeholders tend not to be involved, and that’s an issue.”

The union was not invited, though some college and university presidents spoke.

Gov. Rick Scott kicked off the program.

“Are we thinking about where we’re going are we going? Are we going to be reflective of what we’re doing? What can we learn? Who can we meet, who can we call on? But challenging everything we’re doing with the goal that at the end, our education in Florida is affordable, high quality, and every student has the opportunity to finish and get a good paying job," he said.

During his time in office, Scott has pushed for colleges and universities to lower their costs, and to make those institutions align more with the job market. But Florida's public higher educations have also seen public dollars shrink, forcing them to rely more on private funding. The schools are also competing against one another for more state funding through a performance-based system.

Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez Cantera moderated a panel of businessmen and school trustees, and Senate President Andy Gardiner also received a speaking slot. Scott’s job summit continues Thursday and will feature head football coaches from Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of Miami in a panel on leadership and teamwork.

Rich Templin, spokesman for the Florida AFL-CIO points to that as an example of what he says are the governor's skewed priorities when it comes to higher ed.

“I think that shows where some of our priorities have gotten in that state. And these are the things a higher education summit should be tackling, instead of what we’re seeing out of this summit. Basically, we started this summit and we will end it by reinforcing what the governor and some in the legislature are already doing," he said. 

Scott is using the summit to issue a new challenge to colleges and universities: get students to finish in four years. He wants schools to remove fees for online courses, and allow kids to get credit for AP courses and internships. He also wants the legislature to allow the state’s bright futures scholarship program to cover summer courses.

Several university and college presidents are attending the summit, along with members of the schools' board of trustees. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran and incoming Senate President Joe Negron are also there. He recently toured the state's universities to highlight challenges students face on the road to graduation.