Bill now includes USF, two others for recognition

A bill that once had the potential to overshadow USF could now name it one of the top schools in Florida.

When Florida Senate Bill 2442 was introduced in February, it sought to honor the top-ranked public research institution in the state – which would give the University of Florida (UF) the title of “Florida’s flagship college.”

But after protests from Florida State University (FSU) students, the Senate altered the wording of the bill so it didn’t limit prestige to one school, rather three. And USF is one of them.

The bill, which is still being debated in the state’s legislative session, will grant eligible schools with “the freedom to pursue an agenda on the global stage in fair competition with other institutions in other states.”

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said that, among Florida schools, competition couldn’t be tougher.

“The proposed language rightly recognizes that universities with national and international impact have the greatest capacity to contribute to Florida’s economic development – especially in the areas of life sciences, water, sustainability, energy and health care,” he said.

For a school to receive the bill’s recognition, it must meet the Carnegie Foundation criteria, which gauges “the quality of its students, national reputation of its faculty and research programs and the quantity of externally generated research.” Universities also have to bring in more than $100 million in revenue from research.

The only public schools that fit this description are the UF, FSU and USF, which Wilcox said shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“In large part, these factors are the product of history,” Wilcox said. “UF was founded over 100 years before USF’s founding in 1956.”

Wilcox said lawmakers used data from 2008 to gauge research. USF ranked 43rd among American public universities and second in Florida with $278 million in total research expenditures, he said. UF ranked 13th nationally with $584 million and FSU ranked 67th with $182 million.

Since 2005, the Carnegie Foundation has classified these three universities for advancement of teaching as RU/VH universities, meaning they have very high research activity. The bill hopes to reward that.

According to the bill, which will only highlight colleges that are “nationally recognized and ranked and that have a global perspective and impact,” schools that receive recognition will experience an increase in their national reputation, the quality of externally generated research, patents and licenses and an institution’s peers.

Some students, however, said they think the title isn’t a big deal. UF student Taylor Johnson, a freshman majoring in biology, said the original flagship title is “useless.”

“It’s a complete waste of time for our Senate, which should be concentrating on things that matter, instead of trying to equally distribute meaningless titles amongst bickering universities,” Johnson said.

But Palveshey Tariq, a freshman majoring in mathematics and political science, said the bill is a reminder that USF is just as competitive as other schools.

“It’s safe to say that USF is progressing if we’re No. 2 in the state, overall,” Tariq said. “It’s going to take some time to rise academically because of USF’s short history, but being No. 1 in the state in areas like medical research is definitely a step up.”