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Weatherford tries to walk back Poly comments

Posted Mar 2, 2013 by William March

Updated Mar 2, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is trying to walk back his comments to the Tampa Tribune editorial board that the creation of Florida Polytechnic University was “a disaster.”

In comments to the Lakeland Ledger, Weatherford contended he was quoted out of context in a Tampa Tribune story that quoted him as saying, “We have an unbranded, unaccredited university that we’re spending … general appropriations of $30 million a year.”

Weatherford made that comment to the Tampa Tribune editorial board Tuesday.

In a subsequent interview with the Ledger, according to its report, Weatherford said, “The context was this: I was asked about the $25 million request, and I said I think it’s a disaster because I believe the whole deal was they wouldn’t be coming back and asking for money. That was a disaster.”

In fact, as a recording of the interview by the Tribune makes clear, Weatherford’s “disaster” comment was spontaneous, and not made in response to any question about Florida Poly.

The $25 million request Weatherford mentioned was a request early this week by the board of Florida Polytechnic for an additional $25 million in the coming year’s state budget, which was quickly withdrawn after it was met with criticism.

However, as the recording makes clear, at no point in the Tribune interview was Weatherford asked about that request.

Weatherford made the “disaster” comment after being asked a general question about his priorities for the coming legislative session.

He listed several, one of which was creation of an online university, saying (at about time mark 3:45 in the recording), “We don’t want an unbranded, unaccredited online university because we have a university that’s unbranded and unaccredited, it’s called Polytech, it’s been a disaster. We don’t want another one of those.”

Later in the interview, at about 21:50 (after a deleted off-the-record section), Weatherford was asked to elaborate on his “disaster” comment.

He responded, “Well, you know, they asked for more money, we all laughed, and now they’ve rescinded, I read that in your paper this morning. I think that was a smart move on their part. Asking for more resources was not a good thing at this time.”

He then brought up and discussed at some length the idea of seeking a big-name national technical university to take over Florida Poly.

Then he added, “You have an unbranded, unaccredited university that we’re spending—right now, we have a general appropriations of $30 million a year that’s going to Polytech into the future if we don’t do something.”

In a telephone interview Wednesday morning, Weatherford acknowledged that he expected to get reaction to his comments from partisans of Florida Polytechnic, including former Sen. JD Alexander of Lakeland, who was responsible for its creation as an independent campus.