Telephone and Politics

We sat in a circle. Maybe there were 15-20 of us, I’m not sure. But there we were, all sitting crossed-legged in a circle on stained, graying berber. We ranged in age from maybe 6 or 7 to perhaps 11 or 12 and it was one of the many games we played at the nursery center after school.

We called it Pass it Down, but you might know it as Telephone. The chosen person began by whispering a word, phrase or sentence into a nearby ear. The owner of that ear “passed it down,” and relayed the message to the next person. And on it went around the circle until the message got back to the originator.

“That’s not what I said!” was the originator’s oft-heard reply. Whatever word or words were passed down were distorted by the time they got through everyone. He said, she said, and apparently almost everyone said or heard it wrong.

It’s a game, but sometimes versions of it happen in real life, too. Notably, in politics. Something happens and folks “hear the message” and get all up in arms about what they think the message is, when what they heard (or read via social media) is a word or phrase or sentence removed from the truth.

Today, the FAMU Board of Trustees had an “emergency called meeting” to discuss the FAMU-FSU college of engineering.  The Chair, Solomon Bader, released a statement which read, in part,

We are aware of an amendment filed on Tuesday evening by Senator John Thrasher that would create a second college of engineering in Tallahassee at Florida State University.

The statement was cause for alarm for those who support the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering – a joint venture between the two universities. The college was founded in 1983 and shares resources including facilities and professors. Students can attend either Florida A&M University or Florida State University and take classes at the college.

I wanted to know what Senator Thrasher’s amendment actually said, so I went searching.

I found out Senator Thrasher’s amendment did not create a second college of engineering. Instead, it added $3 million to the proposed Senate Budget (See SB 2500) which already provided $10 million of capital outlay to “FSU – College of Engineering.” The amendment did not “create” a second college, but it added additional funding to a new college. A previously non-existent FSU College of Engineering is listed in the proposed budget, and there is no accompanying narrative to explain the capital outlay.

Section of SB 2500 funding the FSU College of Engineering.
Section of SB 2500 funding the FSU College of Engineering.

As I discovered this, the Florida Senate debated the budget and passed it, 37-2. The Florida House debated and passed its own version of the budget (HB 5001) which did not include the controversial item.

Some are calling for pressure on Senator Thrasher. I’m not sure what that can accomplish. After all, the Senate has already voted on the measure in question. Others are lamenting it’s over and nothing else can be done. The new FSU College of Engineering is on its way. But this fatalistic approach ignores the conference that must occur to reconcile the bills, and any additional steps required to approve a new program.

Whether you support or oppose an FSU College of Engineering, it’s time to do your own research and stop playing Telephone with politics.

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