Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been busy compiling and publicizing state university system data, but some are questioning his motives as the state gears up for a debate on higher education.
Scott caused a stir among some state university employees when he recently posted faculty salary information online. He then sent a letter last week to Florida's 11 state university presidents requesting data on how universities are meeting needs of the workforce.
Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told Governing the state only wanted to make the list of university salaries publicly available, as it had done previously with most other state employees.
“Florida has the right to know where these dollars are being utilized," she said.
But many educators suspect Scott posted the data to spark debate on university funding costs. The president of the state university faculty's union told The Gainesville Sun that posting the salary information is part of a push for "radical changes" in higher education.
In an interview with Governing, Ed Mitchell, executive director of United Faculty of Florida, said the posted salary data lacks information to put it in context. The data does not list a faculty member’s discipline or identify all money paid for by grants or other sources.
“We’re very much in favor of public access to public records,” Mitchell said. “But we believe the public should have full information, not just a snapshot.”
Some faculty members have already expressed concerns for potentially drastic cuts to the university system.
“Higher education is a major economic driver in this state, and we hope the governor places a priority on that economic driver," Mitchell said.
Posting public salary information online isn't new. Many local newspapers and watchdog groups have, for years, compiled salaries into online databases.
Few states, though, build their own such databases for public use. Florida had already published pay for most other state employees on its searchable database.
Scott’s office is now working on compiling additional data as he formulates a plan for higher education.
On Oct. 13, Scott sent letters outlining a request for 17 sets of data from state universities.
The letters request, among other information, performance of the 50 highest paid employees, details on how degree programs are initiated or canceled and goals for students after graduation. Scott also requested data regarding subjects for required courses and numbers of graduates with specific degrees.
"We have a great opportunity to ensure we keep the cost of living low in Florida, ensure Floridians have the opportunity to get a great education, and ensure Floridians have the opportunity to find employment," Scott wrote in the letter.
In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week, Scott said Florida needed to shift funding to science, engineering and other programs with better job prospects. The state, for example, did not need more anthropologists, he said.
Groups representing liberal arts and related studies met his remarks with sharp criticism this week.
The governor's office has yet to release specific details on his plan for higher education.
Read Gov. Scott's letter to university presidents: