Neatly placed inside University of Florida spokeswoman Janine Sikes’ mailbox in Tigert Hall is a Facebook photo of a girl in front of a 20-foot statue at the Plaza of the Americas, giving the camera the middle finger as she holds up a monster-sized yellow price tag reading “$35,000.”

Sikes and fellow UF spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed the cost of the statues at $35,000 – and that’s only for the 15 on campus.

Student opinion on the statues has been fierce, to say the least.

And despite Sikes’ professional demeanor, the friction in the room was undeniable.

“If you’re asking me if I understand people are upset, then yes,” Sikes said.

“Crossing Paths,” the traveling sculptures by Seward Johnson, were presented by the Creative Campus Committee, whose 16 members include Lucinda Lavelli, the dean of the College of Fine Arts.

The statues were funded by the Provost Discretionary Fund. Dawn Riedy, office of the provost budget coordinator, explained that the ways in which the funds are spent are not up to a committee but the sole discretion of provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, Joe Glover.

According to Reidy, though, “there are rules.”

“Could he have bought books from the library instead of putting up art? I guess so, but fine arts is as much of an education as anything else,” said Leslie Bram, the associate vice president of the University of Florida Foundation.

Both spokespeople, Orlando and Sikes, confirmed no tuition or appropriated state money was used for funding the sculptures.

Instead, the money came from donations made to the fundraising arm of UF, the University of Florida Foundation, which hosts 8,000 different funds.

Riedy said the funds are non-restrictive, meaning they are given freely by donors.

“Nobody makes a gift to the Provost Discretionary Fund – if they make a gift for a non-student financial aid scholarship that is not restricted to a college, it is managed by the provost,” Bram said. “It may go into the discretionary fund or it may go into one of the many other funds we have.”

Money gets funneled into the provost’s fund by donations, fees, corporations and alumni dues. For example, in 2009 the provost received $2 million from University Athletic Association, Bram said.

Bram looked up the disbursement report for the Provost Discretionary Fund. It turns out within the last fiscal year the Provost Discretionary Fund has also given $80,000 in non-need based scholarships, $1,000 to faculty senate, and four separate disbursements towards Gator Nights at the Reitz Union.

Riedy added that the Provost Discretionary Fund also finances faculty development functions, student organization functions and Education Celebration, an annual Homecoming event that awards distinguished professors and undergraduate research mentors at the University of Florida.

Janine Sikes, speaking on behalf of Mr. Glover, said the Provost Discretionary Fund is meant to “help support programs that we do not believe should be paid for with state or tuition dollars.” The fund gives the provost the ability to support programs that “supplement campus life” or “enrich campus activities.”

According to the director of the sculpture foundation, Paula Stoeke, the fees paid to sponsor an exhibition go toward the costs associated with the project, including transportation, conservation and insurance.

“It’s not like it was decoration,” Bram said. “Why would you have a lecture series? Why would you have Gator Growl? Because it enhances the academic community.”

Editorial cartoon (top) by Diana Moreno.