Goals, credit controversy the talk of leadership meeting

Members of USF’s Board of Trustees discussed the future, the quality of education at USF and touched on a few hurdles at their fall meeting Thursday.

“We want to be prepared, very prepared for this year’s legislative session, and we want to be sure that everyone on the BOT staff is on the same page,” BOT chair Rhea Law said.

To begin this process, Law said a committee of 14 student, faculty and administrative representatives would reassess USF’s “strategic goals” for the next five years. Some general goals of the plan are to promote research programs and attract top undergraduate and graduate students. A full report on the new goals should be presented at the Dec. 7 BOT meeting.

“This is our opportunity to really tell the story of how we provide service for the community from an educational perspective,” Law said.

Law also announced a Board of Governors plan to assess the entire statewide university system. Law said the Pappas Consulting Group would conduct interviews with BOT members and other BOT members from other colleges to assess Florida’s educational needs.

“The BOG could potentially recommend they open up another college or make requirements to build up our existing universities,” said Cindy Visot, director of operations for the BOT.

To keep up with enrollment growth, USF President Judy Genshaft said more state funding would be needed.

“We are looking into what is happening on a national scenario and what makes a difference in higher education,” Genshaft said. “We need to have state-funded enrollment growth. In the past, all the enrollment growth we’ve achieved hasn’t been funded.”

John Ramil, who serves as chair of the Finance and Audit Workgroup, announced the intended launch of a new university service for whistleblowers in financial positions. The system, called EthicsPoint, would allow employees to file a report through an anonymous third-party phone line and Web site.

A code of conduct for financial policies was also revised, Ramil said, and would make those in responsible financial positions more accountable.

“In today’s world, you have to perform and show that you’re in compliance, and we’re going to do this,” Ramil said.

Speaking on behalf of the faculty union, Roy Weatherford talked about the faculty’s disdain for a 12-credit hour rule for graduate assistants.

On Wednesday, an e-mail was sent to graduate assistants from Delcie Durham, dean of the Graduate School, announcing the rule would be deemed optional starting in the spring semester.Weatherford said he wanted to make his point known, in case the decision to make the rule optional was reversed.

But prior to his speech, Weatherford was concerned with his potential exclusion from the BOT agenda.

“I had talked to some of our leadership, and they all agreed that the author or authors (of the agenda) attempted to limit faculty participation in the governance of the University,” Weatherford said. “Some wanted to put a demonstration together, but I said, ‘No, I think they should at least give us a chance,’ so I called off the demonstration and showed up ready to say nice things. And lo and behold, we’re not on the agenda. So it looks like they’re still committed to a policy of trying to quiet faculty.”

Visot said the new agenda was made to create a more integrated board meeting, and no one was trying to cut Weatherford out of the meeting.

“He has plenty of opportunities to sit on workgroup meetings, which are very discussion-oriented meetings,” Visot said.

According to the United Faculty of Florida collective bargaining agreement, the UFF shall be granted a place on the agenda at each board meeting for the purpose of addressing any item on the board’s agenda that affects the wages, hours or other items and conditions of employment of UFF employees.

Law said the BOT would inquire about Weatheford’s request to re-examine the 12-credit hour rule and report to him by the next BOT meeting.

Genshaft discussed the continued importance of marketing USF’s achievements to the global educational world.

“We want to send one message, one voice for USF,” Genshaft said.

Provost Renu Khator talked about restructuring the office of admissions and the importance of the TAPS program (Tracking the Academic Progress of Students) as ways to improve graduation and retention rates.

“It’s all about having the student that enrolls becoming a graduate,” Khator said.

Another area that needed to be examined was making financial aid programs more available for students, Genshaft said.

“We can’t wait for the government to collapse all 20 federal aid funds and start over,” Genshaft said. “There are things in the Financial Aid office here that we can do to make better use of funding.”

Board members also stressed a continued importance on bringing real-word experience to the classroom.

To emphasize their point, the agenda included a presentation from a group of four engineering and computer science students on their award-winning invention of a robotic machine designed to target problem birds in fish hatcheries.

“The more applied work that we do with our discoveries and our teachers makes our University more relevant,” Genshaft said. “We always want to make the student experience more meaningful and more connected.”