THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 20, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
As the Florida Board of Governors takes up one of the most pressing issues for students at its now-12 universities, the seat intended to be their voice on the board is changing hands.
This week's meeting of the board is the first for Cortez Whatley, the student body president at the University of Central Florida and the new student representative on the panel. As the newly-elected president of the Florida Student Association, Whatley takes over from New College student body president Michael Long as the voice of university students on the panel.
And while a decision on universities' proposals for tuition increases is the headline issue of the meeting, Whatley isn't ready to say yet how he might vote on the question. All but three of the 11 institutions who submitted proposals have pushed for the full 15 percent allowed by law; the new Florida Polytechnic University didn't submit one.
"I don't think it's wise, in these types of situations, to really go into meetings with a very narrow mind or with any type of certain agenda. ... As I'm going in, I probably won't make up my mind until it will be forced upon me," he said during a break in a meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee.
Universities have made their cases for the tuition increases over two days of hearings by the committee.
Whatley, 21, is double majoring in legal studies and public administration, with a minor in political science. He plans on attending law school and then entering the Air Force's JAG program afterward.
As for his priorities on the board, Whatley said he plans to focus on ways of reining in student debt, on the rise in Florida and across the country, and helping to better explain to students how the Board of Governors and university trustees make their decisions.
"The typical student, I don't think, is necessarily informed on the decision as well as they could be," he said. "And I'm not saying it's a fault of the board or a fault of the student, per se."
Whatley also plans to press students to get more involved in the legislative decisions that he says helped shape the current tuition debate.
"It's the funding from the state that is the issue and that's been putting these institutions in the position that they're in, in requesting the tuition increases," he said.
Despite that, Whatley could actually find himself in a less contentious place than Long did. The New College president openly challenged Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, as the powerful lawmaker was pushing the creation of Florida Polytechnic.
"Sorry, Cortez," he quipped while saying his farewells Wednesday.
His advice for Cortez was to get a handle on the sometimes-arcane workings of higher education administration and to keep in mind that he's representing hundreds of thousands of students.
"It's not an easy thing to do, but it gives you an opportunity to learn," Long said.
There is one thing coming up at this week's meeting that Whatley's not hesitant to discuss his views on -- an increase in fees for student-life buildings. The projects funded by those fees are chosen at each university by a panel where half of the members are students.
"These are things that are really going to enhance and enrich student life at all of our institutions, and really be something that students can look forward to, because they had the opportunity to voice what they wanted to bring to their campuses," he said.