St. Petersburg campus awaits accreditation

Administrators at USF St. Petersburg are awaiting the “green light” from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), an accrediting agency in Atlanta, for separate accreditation from that of USF Tampa.

Karen White, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, said the school will seek accreditation after the announcement by USF President Judy Genshaft on Feb. 10 that the campus is granted new powers over its operations. They sent in an institutional report on Feb. 13 to the SACS board to see if separate accreditation was a viable option, White said.

Genshaft delegated authority to USF St. Petersburg’s operations and to White, whose title changed from campus executive officer to regional chancellor, allowing the campus to award its own degrees, select its own students in admissions and create new courses and programs, among other new responsibilities.

White said in an interview Wednesday that the delegation of authority from Genshaft will hopefully lead to the school’s separate accreditation.

“We are waiting now to see if it is the right time for the board to review us,” White said. “If they choose to come and we meet the qualifications (needed for accreditation) we will go along with the process for separate accreditation. If not, then we will continue going along with the reaffirmation process for all campuses at USF.”

According to the SACS Web site, some of the qualifications for accreditation include looking at the university’s educational program of admissions and advising for undergraduates and graduates, institutional research, selection of faculty and administrative processes.

USF, including the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses and satellite campuses in Lakeland and Sarasota, is scheduled for reaffirmation of its accreditation in 2005 and if St. Petersburg does not get the go-ahead with the accreditation process, it will not affect USF’s bid for reaffirmation. University accreditation involves comparing one institution to another to see if they meet the same standards of higher education.

USF St. Petersburg has been seeking separate accreditation since 2001, but SACS denied the request saying that the school was not autonomous. But after delegating authority to the campus last week, Genshaft followed up on Florida Statute 1004.33 by granting autonomy, White said. The legislation was formed to help St. Petersburg move toward accreditation. The same was done for the Sarasota/Manatee campus, but it could be years before it meets autonomy standards because of its difference in size and maturity from USF St. Petersburg. The Lakeland campus, though not mentioned in the statute, still must improve on its size and maturity before being considered for autonomy.

“(The autonomy) really recognizes the nature of the campus,” White said. “What the president has done has reached a level allowing the deans and colleges the need to make decisions.”

Genshaft said Wednesday that the St. Petersburg campus’ new authority is just formalizing how mature the campus is.

“They have earned their autonomy, and I kept my word and we have followed through with what I said in 2001 that we would move the institution to be prepared for accreditation,” Genshaft said.

The paperwork that USF St. Petersburg submitted to SACS on Feb. 13 was in part notifying the agency of its new powers. SACS officials are expected to decide in June whether the changes are enough to send a review team to St. Petersburg in the fall.

“It is kind of like a green light, red light situation to see if they can proceed with accreditation,” Genshaft said. “Hopefully, we have met all the requirements.”

For St. Petersburg students, the new authority and autonomy from USF Tampa means a change in the name on their diplomas this spring. They will now read “University of South Florida St. Petersburg.”

Other changes include the authority to grant tenure and promotions; the power to handle registration and records, including dropping and adding classes and granting transcript requests. Also, St. Petersburg will be allowed to bypass the Tampa campus and approve new courses and curricular changes, as well as allowing its faculty make decisions about sabbatical leaves.

However, USF St. Petersburg will still remain a part of the overall university budget where funding and tuition is concerned, as well as share the same legal representation, lobbyists and collective bargaining.

“This is just a great time for us here in St. Petersburg,” White said.