TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State Rep. Randy Fine said that the University of Central Florida should be shuttered over its misuse of $38 million, although he later said he wasn't speaking literally.
Fine, R-Palm Bay, made the comment Wednesday during a House Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee meeting.
"I believe that we are stewards of the taxpayer money and we are obligated not to fund organizations that refuse to steward that money in an appropriate way. If this was a private business that I owned, I would shut it down," Fine said.
The remark was made after Misty Shepherd, UCF's interim vice president for finance and administration, gave a presentation about the school's operating budget and fund balances.
Fine said he believes that other lawmakers don't have "an adequate sense of the severity of the situation" regarding the school inappropriately using $38 million for the construction of the newly opened Trevor Colbourn Hall.
"It is my opinion... that the conduct as it relates to that building, based on what I know, is absolutely inexcusable and I believe if it were done in a private business, every member of the board would have resigned on their own or been asked to resign and there would have been widespread changes in management," Fine said.
He noted that UCF had a $1.8 billion budget last year, more than $640 million of which came from state funding.
"My question to you is this: I'm working on a five and 10-year potential shutdown of the university and so how much money of that $1.8 billion and $640 million do you believe you would need next year if next year was the first year of a five or 10-year shutdown because the university refuses to put in place appropriate corporate governance?" Fine asked Shepherd.
While no other members of the subcommittee responded to Fine's comments, Florida lawmakers were quick to fire back as news of the shutdown talk spread.
"Accountability is one thing— unnecessary and extreme punishment is something else. @UCF contributes a LOT to our state economy and fosters much needed talent for industries across FL. Let’s be wise in how we handle this," Rep. Anna Eskamani, who is a graduate student at UCF, tweeted.
UCF Board of Trustees chairman Robert A. Garvy released a statement saying, in part, that the school is committed to correcting any wrongdoing.
Fine told News 6 that he doesn't actually intend to shut down the university. Instead, he was speaking in hyperbole to illustrate the seriousness of the situation.
An outside law firm conducted an investigation that found that the trustees did not know they were doing anything wrong by using Education and General funds to build Trevor Colbourn Hall.
Bill Merck, who was UCF's vice president and chief financial officer at the time of the misappropriation, was removed from his position in September.