Despite initial setbacks caused by her flight delay, USF President Judy Genshaft said her closed-door meeting with Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormand Beach, to negotiate a potential 58 percent decrease in USF’s budget was “positive.”
Much of the conversation with Alexander, chair of the Senate Budget Committee and longtime advocate of making USF Polytechnic an independent university, and Lynn, chair of the Senate appropriations committee for higher education, was led by Brian Lamb, a Board of Trustees member and chairman of the USF Polytechnic Oversight Committee.
“We had a very positive conversation with a very positive tone,” Lamb said to reporters. “It was clear at the end of the discussion that we still have some work to do. Sen. Alexander acknowledged that he heard us loud and clear and that he was going to go back and think about what fairness looks like as he works through the budget session.”
Genshaft said much of the discussion centered on fairness, something she said USF has not seen in the proposed Senate budget.
“It was a dialogue, a conversation,” she said. “We talked about the importance of the University of South Florida. We thought it was very important to be treated fairly.”
Genshaft also reaffirmed USF’s commitment to creating an independent Polytechnic, but said USF requested Alexander ensure that $6 million in funding previously provided for the USF College of Pharmacy and $18 million for faculty and staff be provided to USF if a bill to create Florida Polytechnic University were to pass.
The bill to create an independent Polytechnic, proposed by Lynn with support from Alexander, is slated to be heard later this week.
“We talked about the number of faculty and students and staff that would be shifted over, but only with resources, because we can’t afford them without resources,” she said.
Lamb said USF would be providing the Senate with data demonstrating the need for those funds.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Alexander said after the meeting that USF had “a bit more homework to do.”
According to the Associated Press, a proposal in the Senate could allow tuition at the University of Florida and Florida State University to be raised more than the approved 15 percent increase, in light of the budget cuts to stay nationally competitive.
USF spokesman Michael Hoad said USF met 11 of the 14 criteria necessary to raise tuition freely, but was still considering “whether that is a good thing or not.”
Lamb said in an interview with The Oracle that USF is continuing to follow the steps to meet the criteria necessary for Polytechnic’s split set by the Board of Governors (BOG) in November.
“We are still focused on achieving the BOG benchmarks,” he said. “We haven’t yet changed course. We’re not doing anything different yet.”
Yet Lamb said many of the fears from students about not having a university to graduate from could be quelled.
“Sen. Alexander specifically said today he doesn’t want to hurt any of our students, both at USF or any of our institutions,” he said. “I think you’ll find from all of our elected officials that there’s no intent to shut down a campus or hurt any of our students.”
Genshaft thanked those who sent messages to legislative representatives, but said it was necessary to continue contacting legislators.
“There is nothing in writing, and that is very important,” she said.
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, said if the meeting between Genshaft and Alexander wasn’t fruitful, he was ready to file an amendment today that would reduce USF’s budget cuts to $45 million, returning $6 million for the College of Pharmacy, $18 million for supporting the absorption of Polytechnic faculty and staff and $33 million that he said was a “disproportionate share.”
“The meeting was cordial, but I do not believe it can be resolved before the Senate budget is passed out on Thursday,” he said in an interview with The Oracle.
While he said Alexander has expressed “good faith” toward ensuring USF is treated fairly, Norman said he wants to make certain there is a “Plan B.”
“I want certainty,” he said. “They had a great conversation and they both are going to work together to try to give a little more explanation, (but) I believe that for this to be able to go to conference, we have to have certainty that USF is on equal terms with all the other universities in the state. I’m trying to avoid a floor battle (between the House and Senate). I need to get enough certainty that these financial issues are going to be resolved.”
Norman said he wanted USF students to be aware that their voices are being heard.
“I got your back, man,” he said. “It’s my job and that’s what I’m here for.”