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Letters to the Editor

USF?Tampa plans raiseserious issues for USF?St. Pete

Re: “Who’s the boss?” by David Guidi, Feb. 19.

The time to plan the future is now.Board of Trustees member Lee Arnold and USF?President Judy Genshaft appeared frustrated when their unveiling of draft 13 of the University’s plan, “Shaping Our Future 2007-12,” was greeted with less than enthusiasm by the USF St. Petersburg academic community Friday. These concerns are important and may shape the future of higher education in St. Petersburg.

The plan plots an ambitious path toward membership in the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 public and private universities. The AAU membership indicators are based on a set of quantitative measures to access the “breadth and quality of university programs of research and graduate education.” While this sounds like a noble goal, the plan raises at least four serious issues.

Is AAU membership an appropriate goal in light of recent critiques of American higher education? See the recently released report of the National Commission on Higher Education, “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,” for reference. In the 21st century, do we need more emphasis upon graduate education and pure research when our nation and region suffers from issues more related to the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning, access and affordability, innovation and applied research?

USF, through its multi-campus system, now provides multiple missions well suited to the diverse needs of our society. As one faculty member said, “It is amazing we have done so much with so little.”

AAU membership may come at the expense of these diverse missions, a spirit of innovation and a focus on excellence in undergraduate teaching. The USF plan should ignite a serious discussion about educational, community and human values and not merely reflect a mirror image of the AAU.

Ironically, recent administrative changes toward greater system centralization of administrative and budget control in Tampa seem unrelated and perhaps inconsistent with the goal of AAU membership. The AAU criteria do not stipulate any form of administrative organization. Separate SACS accreditation for the St. Petersburg campus would enhance USF’s bid for AAU membership; but loss of administrative and budget autonomy would cast doubts upon the status of the St. Petersburg campus and the whole system.

AAU membership would require a quantum leap in building financial resources (public and private) for USF. University systems build their resources by viewing the whole as more than the sum of its parts, thus energizing new resources and innovation. The president’s metaphor of all boats (campuses) rising works, only if there is a rising tide (new resources). It appears that USF trustees may be viewing the USF system as a zero sum game, and thus see the $1.7 billion budget as an allocation problem rather than an opportunity to leverage additional resources.

Whether perception or reality, there is much that supports a view that the current and projected USF system functions like a mercantile economy in a colonial world. Resources generated at the St. Petersburg campus, including gifts, and the indirect portions of grants are filtered through Tampa, thus making it difficult for the St. Petersburg campus faculty to support its research and teaching. Such policies only serve as disincentives to the excellence for which USF aspires.

Clearly, the St. Petersburg campus Community Meeting on Feb. 17 was a wake-up call. Now is the time for Tampa to involve the St. Petersburg campus as a true collaborator in planning for a much more unique and exciting learning institution than found in draft 13 of the plan.

Merle Allshouse is a member of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg College of Business Advisory Board.