Florida State University officials have accepted Friday’s committee decision to relocate their digital arts program from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee and don’t plan to present their case again before a final vote later this month.
The recommendation to move the program, which was approved unanimously by a three-member committee of the Board of Governors, faces a full vote by the board Feb. 21.
The board oversees Florida’s public universities and has questioned why FSU should remain in West Palm Beach after the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of the school’s former partner Digital Domain.
West Palm Beach gave Digital Domain $2 million, which flowed through to FSU to create the bachelor’s degree in animation and digital arts.
Last week, Mayor Jeri Muoio said if the city doesn’t get to keep the program, she would want a refund.
“We spent $2 million to build this curriculum,” she said. “If we don’t have that curriculum we want our $2 million back if that curriculum isn’t being delivered in West Palm Beach — or we want the curriculum and we’ll look at some other ways to deliver it.”
Muoio, who attended Friday’s meeting at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, stressed West Palm Beach’s involvement to committee members.
“We wouldn’t be here talking about this program if it weren’t for our city’s investment,” Muoio told the committee. “It was our $2 million that helped create the very curriculum we are discussing today.”
City spokesman Elliot Cohen said Monday that he’s not sure whether city officials will listen in on the Feb. 21 Board of Governors meeting, which is being held by conference call.
It’s unclear exactly how much of the city’s $2 million contributed to the curriculum. During Friday’s meeting, film school Dean Frank Patterson said the curriculum was five years in the making, but was developed during a time of university budget cuts when there was no money to put it into action.
“It seemed like a gift that (Digital Domain) was going to come in and fund it,” Patterson said.
FSU officials will be available during the meeting to answer questions and will address the issue if asked, said spokesman Keith Bromery.
“Florida State University accepts the recommendation of the Florida Board of Governors Select Committee on FSU Academic Film Program Offerings in West Palm Beach and thanks the committee members for their time and effort in considering this matter,” a statement from FSU said after Friday’s decision.
On Monday, students in the program wrote a letter to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan complaining that they weren’t given a say in the decision to relocate. Signed by 24 students, which they say is the entire West Palm Beach-based class, the letter says the Board of Governors made no effort to understand the curriculum, “yet a verdict was assigned in our ‘best interest.’”
“If you wish to speak on our behalf, speak to us first,” the letter, which is on university stationary, says.
But with Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson previously saying he opposed the program remaining in West Palm Beach, school officials may see the writing on the wall. FSU President Eric Barron didn’t attend Friday’s meeting.
For FSU, relocating the program will mean creating a “teach-out” plan for the 25 students on the West Palm Beach campus. Accrediting agencies generally require schools to provide what was promised students when they enrolled. It’s unknown whether that will mean teaching the sophomores in West Palm Beach until graduation.
The recommendation to move the school made clear that current freshman, who stay in Tallahassee the first year, will complete the major on the main campus. School officials said the move will reduce the major from an estimated 285 students in West Palm Beach to just 85 in Tallahassee.
Part of the decision to relocate the program was based on the lack of hard agreements with other businesses to work with students, and the fear that another Digital Domain disaster could occur.
“It was promised to our students that they were going to be part of Digital Domain and that promise is now gone,” said committee chairman Mori Hosseini during the meeting.
“We are working really diligently to bring in other industry partners,” answered Jonathan Stone, a former Digital Domain employee hired by FSU after the company shut its Florida studio in September.
“How about if they don’t come?” Hosseini said, cutting Stone off. “What are we going to tell the parents? What are we going to tell the students?”
Staff Writer Andrew Abramson contributed to this story.