SUS critic advises University

USF neglects the potential of current faculty and lacks the classroom space and technology infrastructure needed to realize its ambitious five-year strategic plan, according to a consultant for strategic planning recently hired by the University.

Stephen Portch, the consultant hired by USF President Judy Genshaft in September, considers himself a “cynic and skeptic of the institution.”

He is the principle author of the Pappas Report, a state-commissioned study that made headlines in the spring with its pointed criticisms of Florida’s State University System.

Portch’s job is to rate the University’s chances of accomplishing its goals and to advise accordingly, Faculty Senate President Michael Barber said Wednesday.

“(Portch was hired) to look at the progress we made in our strategic plan towards our overall goal of positioning our self to achieve (Association of American Universities) status,” Barber said.

Portch met with members of the Faculty Senate on Wednesday to share his feedback on USF’s five-year strategic plan – which USF hopes will push it into the ranks of the prestigious AAU, which includes Harvard and the University of Florida.

Interim provost Ralph Wilcox, one of the main writers of the strategic plan, also spoke at the meeting.

Portch called the development of the plan “the easy part,” to be followed by the difficulty of setting the plan into motion.

Portch told the Faculty Senate that USF must upgrade its infrastructure and develop the talent of its existing faculty if the University ever wants to realize its ambitions.

He shocked many in the room by revealing that, after speaking with a colleague who was a consultant at USF 30 years ago, he concluded that “nothing’s changed.”

“I find the infrastructure at this university seriously inadequate to get you to where your ambitions are,” he said. “The infrastructure is so weak that it leads to a lot of inefficiencies and daily frustrations among faculty. The administration needs to make sure that the technology support systems are adequate.”

One example of the need for organization in technology infrastructure, Portch said, was illustrated by the fact that several professors in the room had as many as four e-mail addresses.

Wilcox agreed infrastructure was a major problem at USF, but said it encompassed more than just buildings and computers.

“We do tend to get bogged down on parking and technology, but the absolute void of policies in some critical areas, particularly in academic affairs and research, is a problem,” Wilcox said.

To reach its goal of AAU status, the University should “stockpile faculty talent,” Portch said.

The gap between where USF is today and where USF needs to be is very significant in terms of the acquisition of talent, Portch said. In his view, USF should think beyond “chasing the superstars,” referring to the University’s practice of hiring young, in-demand faculty.

Instead, he suggested identifying existing faculty members who haven’t reached their full potential and investing more attention in them.

Portch also praised the appointment of Karen Holbrooke as the interim vice president of research and innovation, though some Faculty Senate members lamented the fact that Holbrooke was hired without a search committee or feedback from the faculty.

Portch accepted the fact that some members of the Faculty Senate had criticisms of the administration.

“It is the nature of the beast for there to be faculty skepticism,” Portch said. “That’s a healthy part of the university environment.”