BOG to discuss Polytechnic separation from USF System

The USF System may say goodbye to one of its campuses, pending the outcome of an upcoming Board of Governors (BOG) meeting to discuss turning USF Polytechnic into its own university.

According to a letter addressed to BOG chairwoman Ava Parker, USF President Judy Genshaft will attend the meeting – which will take place Sept. 14 and 15 at Florida International University in Miami – with the request that USF Polytechnic Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman be present as well.

Genshaft’s letter was in response to an Aug. 2 request from Parker that she attend the next BOG meeting.

Lake Wales Mayor Michael Carter said discussions surfaced at the end of July between Polk County community leaders, in which 30 signed a letter addressed to Parker offering reasons to consider the Polytechnic split from the USF System.

Carter, who was one of the signatures, said he attended a meeting July 25 where leaders such as Jesse Jackson, superintendent of the Lake Wales Charter School System, and local attorney Robin Gibson led the conversation on separating the Lakeland campus from the USF System.

“I discovered (the initiative) at a meeting I was asked to attend,” he said. “They presented some pretty compelling reasons why this would be in the best interest of the university to break away Polytechnic as a separate entity.”

If the school separates, Carter said it could boost the Polk County economy by creating more traffic to the area.

“Having a stronger identity of having the university headquartered here will be a bigger drawing card for students, for faculty and for businesses in the area that support universities,” he said. “Rather than having it identified with Tampa it will be identified with Polk County.”

Other signers of the letter were Vice Chairman of Publix Super Markets Barney Barnett, President and CEO of Winter Haven Hospital Lance Anastasio, President of Lakeland Auto Mall H. William Mutz and Executive Director for the Lakeland Economic Development Council Steve Scruggs.

Because the campus curriculum is “highly focused” in producing engineering, information technology and applied health degrees, the letter argued that Polytechnic has a different goal than the other three USF campuses.

“Every comprehensive study of the U.S. education system notes that far greater investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is needed at all levels, especially if the U.S. wishes to remain competitive for 21st century career opportunities and industry growth,” the letter stated. “As a result, the current USF ‘System’ does not work as effectively as it needs to for a university model as unique as USFP.”

The letter continued to state that it is “common sense” that the campus should “dictate its own destiny.”

After the letter, which was dated July 26, was sent, the other three campuses – St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota-Manatee – issued statements on the potential split.

USF Polytechnic spokeswoman Samantha Lane issued a statement on behalf of the university.

“We appreciate the incredible support which our community continues to provide the University of South Florida Polytechnic,” she stated. “The decisions regarding independence will be made by the USF Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, and our elected leaders. … We look forward to continuing to partner with our community as we work together to transform our region and the state. USF Polytechnic is very appreciative of the role of the USF System in establishing our vision and investing in our future, and we look forward to our continued collaboration.”

USF St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Margaret Sullivan issued a statement that the campus is “deeply committed to being part of the USF System,” and “proud of the contributions USF St. Petersburg makes to the state of Florida as an integral part of the USF System.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford also issued a similar statement that the campus is proud to be part of the USF System.

“USF is a highly regarded national brand in higher education and we are honored to be a member of that family,” he said. “Our faculty, students and the Sarasota-Manatee community all benefit from our current structure.”

According to Genshaft’s letter to Parker, the Polytechnic campus and its specialized focus is an important part of the USF System.

“Realizing USF Polytechnic has, and continues to have, a unique mission separate and apart from the other campuses in the USF System,” the letter stated. “We are willing to consider options there, which we would not entertain elsewhere … We intend to continue to make the (USF) System one of the state’s, and nation’s, true pillars of that reality.”