Faculty questions USF’s long-term plan

Faculty members expressed approval for the University’s general direction in a long-term plan laid out by USF President Judy Genshaft on Thursday, but questioned the plan’s top-down creation process and want more involvement in deciding how to implement it in the future.

The response to Genshaft’s presentation of the University’s 2007-2012 Strategic Plan at the monthly faculty senate meeting revealed a group of professors on board with the plan in principle, but unsure how its general goals would translate into specific effects on departments and individuals.

“We have to work together to bring the top up and the bottom down together in a way that is consistent with the strengths of the University,” said Bob Weisberg, a professor of marine science at USF St. Petersburg. “And we haven’t done that yet.”

Genshaft reassured the faculty that she heard their concerns and stressed that the University’s strategic plan acted like an umbrella and colleges had the freedom to work on their own strategic plans within the larger framework.

“It all goes together,” Genshaft said. “But I just think that the more detailed we get right now, the harder it will be to get a plan. We’ll never get anywhere.”

She also said USF’s rapid growth has created some difficulties in creating a governance structure that works.

“We’re really establishing a USF system right now and its tough because it’s ambiguous until we put a structure on it,” Genshaft said. “We’re in the young phase of becoming a system, and it’s hard right now.”

Manny Donchin, a professor of psychology, said the plan focused too much on the research with lucrative benefits for the University and too little on research with less tangible advantages.

“The goal of pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake is lost in this document,” Donchin said. “The way the document reads is the only reason we’re doing research is so some company in Tampa can make money off of it.”

McColm also said USF should focus on recruiting young talented professors and grow a stellar faculty from within rather than spending lots of money to attract established researchers.

“Creating a plan is like finding out how to grow an oak tree,” McColm said.

The Strategic Plan focuses on the continued growth of USF research and advancement toward a position in the Association of American Universities (AAU), an invitation-only organization of 62 prestigious research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

A series of town hall meetings aimed at eliciting feedback conclude this month and the Board of Trustees will consider the plan when they meet March 1. Today at 3 p.m., a campus-wide town hall meeting to discuss the plan will be held in Room 296 of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. The meeting is open to everyone.

Donchin, who spoke with Genshaft for nearly an hour after her presentation, said he thought she listened and the concerns voiced could prompt changes.

“We have the large-scale goals, now it needs to be translated into the nitty-gritty,” Donchin said. “It’s necessary to state your major goals, but it’s also necessary to slog your way through and get rid of anything that is an impediment to quality research and quality instruction.”