The University of Central Florida misused more than $38 million in state money, spending funds intended for operating costs like salaries to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, which opened last month.
The University of Central Florida misused more than $38 million in state money, spending funds intended for operating costs like salaries to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, which opened last month. (University of Central Florida / / Orlando Sentinel)

Back in September, the fact that the University of Central Florida spent money left over from operations on putting up a needed academic building came to light.

You’d have thought the hometown university was paying its bills by selling online kiddie porn from the hullabaloo that followed.


Immediately, the $38 million Trevor Colbourn Hall cost was labeled “misspent” in a state auditor general’s report that criticized the nation’s largest university for replacing the moldy, rusty hall using money remaining from running the massive school.

Legislators were practically fainting and falling out of their desks en masse. Drums began to beat a warning from Tallahassee south to the east Orange campus : Heads were gonna roll.

At the time, this column opined that spending operating money so judiciously as to be able to replace a failing classroom building was something for which legislators should thank the university’s Board of Trustees, not excoriate them.

Instead, the episode led to the resignations of the president and Board of Trustees chairman, calls to close UCF, public embarrassment, a House investigation, a university investigation and punitive construction allocations for next year.

Then, unsurprisingly, the Legislature hypocritically passed a measure that actually allows state schools to do precisely what UCF did — provided they file the proper paperwork..

This situation couldn’t get more absurd, could it?

Oh, dear reader! Your naive trust is charming! But things could get worse, and they did.

Despite the Legislature backing off its initial freak-out over “misspending,” UCF, at the insistence of the Florida Board of Governors — they run the university system — kept on cutting the checks to an Atlanta law firm hired to look into how much the university spent on construction rather than operations.

Current total paid to the law firm: more than $1 million.

Seriously. These ninnies spent $1 million to investigate spending that the Legislature now considers perfectly fine. And this “investigation” is still going on. Seriously.

The law firm of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner reported to the Board of Governors on Thursday during a meeting in Tampa that UCF used about $100 million since 2012 for construction rather than operations. That’s hardly surprising in a school growing as fast as UCF.

During the meeting, board member Edward Morton said, “I don’t understand why people aren’t jumping up and down about this and getting to the bottom of it.”

We can help you with that one, Ed.

Answer: Because it doesn’t matter. No one but you cares. No one should. UCF’s Board of Trustees knows perfectly well what UCF needs and while they might not say it — they fear pressure and dismissal from above — they know this is a specious investigation.


What’s the matter with Morton and his colleagues? How can they sit there with straight faces and pretend this was an acceptable way to spend $1 million? It’s one thing to spend that kind of cash trying to prosecute some university bean counter who siphoned off tax dollars to buy a darling little oceanfront bungalow in the Abacos.

But that’s not what happened.

No one is suggesting that the money allocated to the university was in any way spent illegally. No hookers. No donations to the Trump campaign. No Tahiti excursions for administrators.

Just one boring old classroom and office facility called Trevor Colbourn Hall, right there on campus where anybody can see where the $38 million in leftover operating funds went.

So why does the Board of Governors think anyone but their own pompous selves care? UCF students care that they’re not choking from mold in class, but which side of the university ledger the money came from is a big fat “so what.”

This ridiculous investigation never should have been started. It should be shut down immediately. It’s a waste of hard-to-come-by big money.

Nobody stole from UCF, and those involved are either gone, or they get the point by now. There is nothing to be gained by digging out the step-by-step process of how this “terrible” breach of finance happened.

Those serving on the UCF Board of Trustees are community leaders and well-connected in political and business circles. The Board of Governors is further removed from individual schools — its members come from across the state.

But here is betting not a single one of them would have used their own money for such an investigation if this had happened in their business.

Perhaps they have forgotten how much money $1 million really is or what it would mean to students struggling financially. That money could have given 45 needy students a free ride through UCF for a year.

Now that legislators have blessed the process of transferring money from operations to construction, only Board of Governors’ egos stand in the way of shutting down this nonsense.

Florida shouldn’t be paying for Atlanta lawyers to put their kids through Harvard on the backs of UCF students.