Moments after the governor’s office named the 12 members of USF’s Board of Trustees, university officials began questioning if the new setup will be a step forward or backward for the university.Answers probably won’t come anytime soon.
At a ceremony Monday, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan read the names of those who will become the new decision-makers for USF, controlling everything from the budget to new degree programs. Each university in the state gets its own Board of Trustees, a local governing board that will more directly control major universities. These 11 boards across the state are part of a major Republican-led education system overhaul which disbanded the previous statewide governing body: the Board of Regents.
Brogan’s announcement engendered looks of interest from faculty, administration and a few students. The 12 appointees, many of whom are familiar faces to USF, are local business and political leaders. They include former U.S. Senator Connie Mack; CEO of Tampa Electric Company John Ramil; the founder of Outback Steakhouse Chris Sullivan and H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Almost as soon as Brogan made the announcement, opinions began to form regarding the board’s eventual impact on USF. Some questioned the diversity of the group, which contains, out of thirteen members, three minorities, one of whom is black. President Judy Genshaft addressed the issue concerning the diversity of the board.
“We have two leading people who are Latino,” Genshaft said. “President Swygert is one of the leading African American educators in the country.”
Swygert, Genshaft’s former boss at the State University of New York at Albany and the only person Genshaft formally recommended for the position, was the only black person named to the board.
Others raised questions concerning the fact that most members of the board are high-ranking business professionals with little or no experience as educators.
Genshaft said that the new Board of Trustees will work with the faculty of USF, but said also she had heard some of the faculty were not happy with the way the board was chosen.
Charles Arnade, a professor for Government and Internal Affairs, is one of the faculty members at USF who expressed concerns about the new board.
“Well, my opinion on the Board of Trustees … there is no one who is a teacher, there is no one who is in social science, philosopher, historian, mathematician,” he said. “They are all involved in business.”
Arnade said he feels the educational aspects of USF may be lost with the new Board of Trustees.
“The whole trust of these people is economics,” Arnade said. “Liberal Arts has been totally pushed aside.”
Arnade said he and some of the other faculty members believe the board was chosen incorrectly, and the faculty opinions were not taken into account when the application process was taking place.Kathy Betancourt, lobbyist for USF, said her opinion differed from Arnade’s. She said the new board is a “Dream Team.”
“I think it’s a wonderful board,” she said. “They’re all committed to this university and this region.”
Responding to the objections about the board’s selection procedure, Betancourt said the process was fair because anyone could have applied to become a trustee.
“Anyone who wanted to could have put together a lobbying effort and taken a shot at it,” she said.
Betancourt also said she was pleased by the fact that many of the board members were from the business community.
“Lay boards have been a tremendous strength for American education,” Betancourt said. “Everyone on that list is someone who is going to make it about the university.”
While there were varying opinions among the faculty about the trustee appointments, members of student government were excited that student body president Mike Griffin would be the sole student representative on the board.
Jarrod Ali, attorney general for Student Government, said he is excited about the board as a whole and that a member of student government holds such a prominent position.
“We’re definitely proud that Mike here is the first person on the board from Student Government,” he said.
Ali said the board seems to be good for education, even though some of the business members seem hesitant at their new position.
He said while many members of the board may not be educators, they are people with high levels of skill and intelligence.
“I think you would see that because the governor appoints them,” he said. “They might not be educators but they are very intellectual in business dealings.”
Tommy Gucciardo and Jaclyn Craft are two students who attended the announcement ceremony. Both said they felt good about the new Board of Trustees and said it was a step forward for USF.
“I know they’ll do a great job,” Gucciardo said. “It’s good they have a student. It’ll get our opinions across.”
“The people they chose were very qualified,” Craft said.
“I was very impressed with the applicant pool they had … I like the fact that some were alumni and some were not.”
Concerning the question of the fact that most of the members come from business backgrounds, Craft said this can be a positive thing.
“They fact that they were all businessmen didn’t stand out much to me as a factor,” she said.
While Craft and Gucciardo were among the few students who attended the press conference, other students on campus continued their daily schedules unaffected by the announcement.Students Amy Rumball and Jill Crowe admit that they are not aware of all of the facts behind the new Board of Trustees, but they have formed their opinions. Both said they believe students don’t have much of an opinion about the appointments because they either have not heard enough information or are simply apathetic.
Crowe said she believes that having the board rule directly over USF is more effective than the former Board of Regents system.”It’s better because it’s not broad,” she said. “It’s good because it’s something new.”
Rumball said she is concerned the board members may be trying to further their status in society by joining the board.
“It seems more like they are promoting their social positions,” she said.
The discussion among students and faculty will continue as the new board begins work. Crowe said only time will tell if the board proves whether it is good or bad for USF.
“I can’t say because it just started,” she said. “At the top there is good intentions.”