David Hamilton, a USF Polytechnic academic adviser, said he left his job at the Tampa campus because he wanted to become a part of an independent Polytechnic university.
Yet a proposed bill that would make USF Polytechnic independent ahead of the Board of Governors’ (BOG) established criteria has him rethinking his career move.
“Part of the reason that I decided to make the change (to Lakeland) was that I had been following all of the stuff with the accreditation and the Board of Governors and all of that stuff and I was really sold on the transition,” he said. “I thought it was stable. I didn’t want to leave my position and go into an unstable position. Well, I’ve been here for a month now and I’m being thrown into a somewhat unstable position.”
Hamilton, along with other USF Polytechnic employees and students, voiced his concerns about the bill during a campus meeting Friday.
Upon passing, the bill would immediately dissolve the Lakeland campus and create the new Florida Polytechnic University. USF Polytechnic students and staff would be absorbed by the USF System, which wouldn’t receive the $18 million estimated costs them.
Sen. Evelynn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, proposed the bill with support from Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has advocated for an independent USF Polytechnic.
The legislation has several critics, including Gov. Rick Scott.
“We have a process, and the Board of Governors have set up a process to work through the Polytech issue,” Scott said in an interview with Channel 10 News. “I believe that’s a process we should continue to go through.” Interim Regional Chancellor David Touchton led Friday’s meeting and said he didn’t see much logic in the bill.
“Now, for some reason there’s a feeling that there is just a tremendous amount of cash reserves in each university,” he said. “If I was running a university on a permanent basis, and I saw this happen, I’d probably just spend all my money next year and not just reserve any of it. So I don’t know if they are sending the (right) message.”
Even though the Senate Budget Committee returned $25 million to USF that would have been held for the transfer of USF Polytechnic in the proposed Senate budget, Touchton said USF still faces a 58 percent budget cut.
He called it “hostage” money.
“You just don’t use humans as a bargaining chip,” Touchton said. “That’s just not right.”
The packed room broke into applause.
Faculty members brought up their concerns for students – there are graduate programs at USF Polytechnic unavailable at USF Tampa, and about 60 percent of students have outside jobs and may not be able to commute to Tampa.
Adam Powell, a counseling specialist at USF Polytechnic, said he began working in November. Since then, he has had about 46 sessions.
“Of the 46 sessions, about half of the students, at some point, they brought (the situation) up,” he said. “They are worried about the transitions.”
Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, attended the meeting to speak to faculty about their concerns and to gather information to bring to Tallahassee.
She reassured faculty members that she will advocate for the new Polytechnic to be created, but not at the cost of a USF presence in Lakeland, and for the budget cuts to be decreased in the USF system.
“I think that the faculty deserves to be listened to and they don’t feel like they have been,” she said in an interview with The Oracle. “So certainly it is my pleasure to come and let them know that somebody is listening to them and fighting for them.”
Dockery said if the bill fails and the BOG conditions remain, she still wants to see USF Polytechnic revert back to a USF branch campus to continue the University’s presence in Polk County.
Even if the conforming bill passes, Dockery told students, “It’s not over. There’s still a long way to go.”
The Polytechnic bill is set for further Senate discussion toward the end of the week. USF President Judy Genshaft will meet with Alexander today in an attempt to reach a compromise.
USF spokesman Michael Hoad said Genshaft met with Sens. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Saturday, and is hopeful about her meeting with Alexander.
“The meeting (with Alexander) could be great,” he said. “The process now goes to the full Senate possibly later this week, and then to conference between the House and Senate – before going to the governor. So there’s a long way to go.”