A KnightNews.com Editorial

Mike Kilbride will likely go down as the most controversial Student Government Association president in UCF history. But as shocking as this may sound, we at KnightNews.com don’t believe that reputation is entirely Kilbride’s fault.

And as history judges Kilbride’s administration, the lion’s share of the blame for the firestorms of controversy should not be placed on Kilbride, but instead on the highest levels of the UCF administration — for failing to teach the student body president about the realities of public service and how to avoid stepping into scandal after scandal.

Take, for example, the lavish SGA Executive Cabinet Retreat. When you spend $8,000 on a five-star Disney area resort using public money, the public will be upset. But where did Kilbride learn this bad habit? And why did he choose this Disney area golf resort? Chances are, SGA wasn’t the first UCF entity to pick a lavish location for a retreat. In fact, a google search for UCF PLC retreat suggests University President John Hitt’s leadership council also chooses Disney area golf resorts for its retreat location. The bottom line is that Kilbride was probably just mimicking behavior of other UCF leaders when he made the outrageous decision to host a luxury, $8,000 retreat on the student dime.

And therein lies the root of the problems that plagued Kilbride’s SGA this year — Kilbride trusted the advice, or followed the lead of top UCF administrators, instead of listening to the fury of his fellow students struggling to make ends meet with skyrocketing tuition hikes when their parents are making less than ever before.

ARCHIVES: Kilbride Giving KnightNews.com a Tour of UCF Gym

These are the same administrators who are moving full steam ahead with a plan to strip the treasured UCF arboretum of its protected status so it one day can be bulldozed in the name of expansion — even though 87 percent of students voting in the last SGA election wanted to keep it preserved, in a way Central Park is to New York City.

And these are the same administrators who refuse to release witness statements detailing how fellow UCF Knights football players remember watching Ereck Plancher start to die, following a reportedly brutal conditioning workout. The students and Plancher’s family deserve the truth about what happened that day, but UCF is choosing to keep it secret.

If you think about it, can you really fault Kilbride for following advice from UCF lawyers enabling him to hide how he spends $15 million of student money, when UCF administrators follow legal advice enabling them to hide the truth of how a son died from his grieving parents? In both cases, those in charge could choose transparency and openness, but instead they choose secrecy.

Kilbride is no more to blame for his transparency problems and resulting public ridicule than a teenager would be if his parents forced him to ride his bicycle around with training wheels. It looks just as ridiculous for a college senior to hide behind the FERPA privacy law when spending millions worth of public money as it would for a 15-year-old to ride around town using a safety device he should have outgrown long ago. UCF administrators may think they’re helping SGA leaders by interpreting laws in a way to let them hide their spending, but they’re really just holding them back, while their peers at places like UF pass them by and learn the valuable lesson of how to be accountable with public money before they graduate.

If you think we’re crazy about how we covered Kilbride’s SGA, think again. A panel of professional journalists gave us a first place award, when judging our work against that of student publications over the entire Southeast for our story on Kilbride’s $8,000 reception desk. This is the type of scrutiny those in public service should expect when they entire the “real world,” where FERPA does not apply. Just check out what happened when a local school board allowed a lavish retreat at the Ritz Carlton. They got blasted by the media, and Lake County School Superintendent Susan Moxley looked like a complete idiot by dodging the questions.

Kilbride is not a bad person, he just got bad advice. He’s done a lot of good while at UCF; on O-Team, with Knight-Thon and by working to bring students a 24-hour study space. Hopefully, Kilbride has finally learned a lesson when it comes to spending someone else’s money and with being more humble. His decisions to help lower the cost of next year’s retreat indicate he has, even if he isn’t ready to explain what his experience as SGA president has taught him to our cameras.

The UCF administration set Kilbride up to fail. For that, they owe him an apology. But on the other side of the coin, their ridiculous way of handling things and encouraging the hiding of spending exposed Kilbride to media firestorms that will leave him more prepared than “professionals” like Moxley are when reporters come asking tough questions.

If Kilbride can prove that he’s learned from his experience at UCF, we think he deserves a chance to give being a leader in the real world a ride. But Mike, make sure you take off those training wheels first. They’re only holding you back.

KnightNews.com has learned Kilbride posted the lyrics to this goodbye song on his Facebook profile, hours after leaving the SGA office as president for the last time.

And on that note, we say, “Goodnight and joy be with you, Mr. Kilbride!”