Legislature signals instability with hasty school mergers, compromising private investments systemwide

By Lawrence W. Vernaglia
There are many good reasons not to disrupt successful colleges in Florida, as has been discussed in connection with the recent legislative proposal to merge New College of Florida, and Florida Polytechnic University, into other state universities (HB 7087).
One important aspect of this proposal hasn’t been sufficiently addressed — the role of the many private foundations, donors, and direct-support organizations that support these schools and their students.
In the case of New College, $50 million has been donated and is at work supporting college activities. These include, among other things, endowed professorships, dedicated scholarships, student grants, and faculty and student research — but only if they are done at New College.
My family is one such donor, having established an endowed scholarship years ago that continues to fund education at New College. We do not support transferring those funds to the control of another university. We support an independent New College of Florida.
But this issue is broader than just frustrating the charitable intent of patrons to New College and Florida Poly. Donors read the Legislature’s hasty consideration of this proposal as a cautionary message: It’s not safe to donate to Florida schools. Any of them.
If the Legislature can pull the rug out from under any university without notice, deliberation or planning, why should any donor trust the state with future resources? Wouldn’t it be wiser to put those private dollars to work in other, more stable, jurisdictions, where legacies can be relied on to build?
A smoke-and-mirrors merger will shake the confidence of donors and foundations seeking to support charitable investment activities at ALL of Florida’s state universities.
In exchange for marginal savings, if any, this signal of instability will compromise billions of private dollars that would otherwise support Florida schools, now and well into the future.
This editorial was originally published in Florida Politics on February 24, 2020.
Lawrence W. Vernaglia is a 1991 graduate of New College and Boston University Schools of Law and Public Health. He is a health care lawyer, partner and Department Chair at Foley & Lardner, and past president of the New College Alumni Association. He resides in Sanibel and Boston, Massachusetts. He can be contacted at lvernaglia@foley.com.

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