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BOG meets to discuss critical report findings

The independent consulting group that bluntly criticized Florida’s state university system (SUS) in a report released Jan. 18 presented its findings to university leaders at the Board of Governor’s meeting on Wednesday.

The Pappas Consulting Group Inc.’s diagnosis – that the SUS lacks direction and needs to focus on undergraduate education and its funding problems – was met with lively discussion from the BOG in its first talks of the report since the release, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ralph Wilcox said after the meeting at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“It’s a conversation that I’m sure will continue,” Wilcox said.

When the discussion shifted to the cures recommended by the report – revamping Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid, focusing more on undergraduate education and less on research, and basing the state money universities get on graduation and not enrollment – the attitude grew more cautious, USF student body president Frank Harrison said.

“I got the sense that many of the universities were very concerned about what this report would mean for them,” said Harrison, who is the only student on the BOG because he serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the Florida Student Association. “It’s one of those situations where everyone is not really sure how to handle it.”

The BOG also began an initiative to solicit public comments about the report and the SUS’s future direction through e-mails, blogs and a survey on its Web site.

An opportunity for public comment will be available when the BOG meets again Feb. 27 in Orlando.

“The future of our state is tied to the future of our universities,” SUS Chancellor Mark Rosenberg said Wednesday in an Associated Press report. “As we draft the plan for higher education, it is vitally important that we hear from as many interested parties as possible.”

The BOG meets again Friday when it will discuss mandatory student health insurance and USF funding proposals for more $100 million in new facilities.

Discussions on the report have just begun, and its impact on future plans for the SUS won’t be known until further meetings and consultation occurs, Harrison said.

“The ink is still wet,” Harrison said. “I think there will be some real scrambling going on while everyone tries to figure out what to do with this.”

Several of the report’s findings could have implications for the University, said USF President Judy Genshaft during a talk with faculty at the monthly USF faculty senate meeting Wednesday. The report stated that state money for Florida’s universities should be based on the school’s graduation and retention rates, not enrollment. Since USF’s graduation rates rank sixth in the state at 21 percent – well below the University of Florida at 55 percent, Florida State University at 46 percent and University of Central Florida at 32 percent – the report’s recommendation would have a major effect on USF’s funding if adopted, Genshaft said. USF’s fall 2006 enrollment, at 44,038, places it second in the state behind UF.”That is a huge implication for us in the way we’re funded,” Genshaft said, adding that graduation rates are very different for a metropolitan university than a traditional four- or five-year campus. Genshaft also addressed the report’s statement that USF St. Petersburg should become a standalone university, along with branch campuses at Florida International University and FAU. “I really disagree with that wholeheartedly,” Genshaft said. Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said that USF would continue to pursue the research mission outlined in its 5-year Strategic Plan. “If it was implemented, it would make USF’s research mission more difficult,” Smith said after the BOG meeting. “But there’s no doubt that we would continue to pursue trying to become a nationally prominent research university.”News Editor Joshua Neiderer contributed to this report.