Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, said Wednesday he is working on a plan to shut down the University of Central Florida over the next five to 10 years.
Fine took issue Wednesday with the revelation that the university had misused funds in the construction of school buildings and classrooms during a meeting of the Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee. UCF admitted in September 2018 to the use of $34 million on construction of a new building, money that designated for operating expenses. In total, the university misspent $84.7 million.
“It is my opinion, as someone who has worked extensively with private businesses, that the conduct that was done as it relates to that building, based on what I simply know, is absolutely inexcusable,” he said. “If it were done in a private business, I believe every member of the board would have resigned on their own or been asked to resign.”
He said he feels the university hasn’t expressed adequate appreciation for the severity of the situation.
“If this was a private business that I owned, I would shut it down,” Fine said.
State Rep. Carlos Smith, who represents the area surrounding UCF, categorized Fine’s comment as reckless rhetoric. He said closing a university the size of UCF would have widespread consequences, including 13,000 employees who would lose their jobs if there was a shutdown.
“It’s a reckless statement considering how many lives are on the line that rely on an emergent preeminent university, that is the largest state university in the state,” Smith said.
Smith chuckled at the likelihood of Rep. Fine’s plan ever going into effect.
“UCF will shut down over my cold, dead body,” he said.
After the meeting, Fine walked back some of his comments.
“There was a bit of hyperbole there. It is intended to share the level of seriousness with which UCF needs to take this major wrongdoing,” Fine said. “I was intending to jolt UCF, and that appears to have happened because of my comments today.”
UCF Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Garvy said in an emailed statement that the university is working to right its past wrongs, but closing UCF isn’t the answer.
“UCF is an admired and appreciated institution that has transformed more than 280,000 lives and an entire region of the state over the past 50 years,” the statement read. “To shut it down would cause irreparable harm to Florida’s future and to the tens of thousands of organizations, businesses, and institutions that depend on its talent, ideas, and innovation.”
The University of Central Florida has the highest student population in the country with more than 68,000 students currently attending, according to the UCF website.
As a result of a third-party investigation into UCF’s misuse of funds, four employees were fired, including the associate VP for finance Tracy Clark.