Gov. Rick Scott signed a much-debated bill Friday to immediately create a 12th public university in the state of Florida effectively severing USF Polytechnic from the USF System to create Florida Polytechnic University and leaving many questions unanswered.
Existing students at USF Polytechnic will still be able to complete their degrees and be taught by Poly faculty in Lakeland. But as of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, the only Polytechnic campus in Lakeland to be officially recognized and funded will be Florida Polytechnic University, which received $33 million in the state budget Scott signed earlier last week.
USF received $10 million to instate a teach out program that will allow USF faculty to continue teaching students at the Lakeland campus until all remaining students graduate. After that, all current Poly faculty and staff will be absorbed into the USF System.
Im just very relieved to have a decision and I am glad that our students, staff and faculty at our Lakeland campus will be taken care of, USF President Judy Genshaft said at a press conference Friday evening.
Polytechnics separation from USF has been up for discussion since last July, when a group of Polk County community leaders rallied together and advocated for a separate university.
Yet after the Board of Governors (BOG) created a timeline that would take five years for the University to separate, contingent on the campuss accreditation, enrollment and other benchmarks, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, began advocating for the universitys immediate separation, publicly stating his lack of confidence in USFs failed leadership.
In late February, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, chairwoman of the Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations, with help from Budget Committee Chairman Alexander, drafted the bill Scott signed Friday that calls for the immediate separation and transfer of assets from USF Polytechnic to Florida Polytechnic University.
Polytechnic student body President Damon Dennis said the decision sets a dangerous precedent for the state. Dennis said the years events will stick with him, even after he graduates in a few weeks.
This past year has been really busy and so crazy and just non-stop fighting, he said. Its taught me a lot about local politics. If I ever get the opportunity to get involved in politics, Ill definitely jump in it. Theres so much that needs to be fixed. The power of the state government needs to be decentralized. One person, like the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, shouldnt have so much power.
The new university, which currently has no students enrolled or faculty hired, will need to meet many of the criteria the BOG set, including creating more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs; creating a minimum enrollment of 1,244 full-time equivalent students by 2016, of which 50 percent must be in STEM fields; and acquiring Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation.
USF Polytechnic was the only USF branch campus to not have separate accreditation, but an application was filed earlier this year.
Genshaft, along with Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs & Education Outreach Kathleen Moore and others, visited the SACS headquarters in February after Alexander claimed that the new university could achieve its own accreditation by July. The fastest the process could take would be 18 months, Genshaft said.
Moore said in an email to The Oracle that USF will now withdraw its application for accreditation, as USF Polytechnic will cease to exist after the teach out.
USFs accreditation covers all of our offerings in Lakeland and students completing program requirements there will receive USF degrees, she said.
But according to the bill, the new university will have the University of Floridas guidance for help with achieving separate accreditation.
The University of Florida, using its expertise in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, shall be available in an advisory or consulting capacity to assist the president and the Board of Trustees of the Florida Polytechnic University in hiring, accreditation, administration and other areas, the bill states.
In November, Alexander said he was ready to propose legislation that would move Polytechnic under UFs umbrella. UF President Bernie Machen had then said he would support Polys quest for independence because he does not endorse the branch-campus model of research universities.
In a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Scott said creating a new university would allow the State University System to create more STEM graduates.
At a time when the number of graduates of Floridas universities in the STEM fields is not projected to meet workforce needs, the establishment of Florida Polytechnic University will help us move the needle in the right direction, he wrote. It is vital for the future of Floridas economy that we meet the need for a STEM educated workforce. Failing to meet this challenge will be costly to our state for decades. Florida Polytechnic University can and must play a key role in addressing this challenge and making Florida a competitive leader on a global scale.
The BOG, which established a select committee to oversee Polytechnics transition, will meet for the final time May 23 with USF representatives. For now, BOG Chairman Dean Colson said the board will work to develop the new university by the start of the fiscal year.
While the Board of Governors suggested one path leading to the creation of a new Polytech, an alternative path was chosen by our elected officials and we respect that decision, he wrote in a press release sent out by the BOG. The Board takes its constitutional duties for oversight seriously and will work hard to ensure that the Polytech is a success.