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Poly officials discuss possible separation

Officials from the USF Polytechnic campus discussed publicly, for the first time, the Lakeland campus’ possible split from the USF system during the Polytechnic Campus Board (PCB) meeting Thursday.

“As a board, we support the USF system and share its commitment to delivering excellence to our students, communities and state,” board member Mark Kaylor said during the meeting. “We recognize USF Polytechnic has a unique mission and, as good stewards of Florida resources, we are open to considering whatever options the Board of Governors and the state seek regarding the future of USF Polytechnic.”

Kaylor’s motion to consider options for the campus’ future, presented by the BOG, was unanimously approved and comes after Polk County leaders began advocating for the campus to become independent during a July community meeting.

Following that meeting, a letter was sent to BOG Chairwoman Ava Parker listing the economic and academic benefits for the campus if it were to split from the USF System. Parker invited USF President Judy Genshaft and Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman to attend the next BOG meeting, Sept. 14-15, to discuss the initiative further.

During the PCB meeting, Goodman said he is uncertain of how a separation would impact students, as the school’s current accreditation is under “the umbrella of USF.”

Regional Vice Chancellor Judith Ponticelli, who works with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) on the accreditation process, said during the meeting that Polytechnic is waiting for the association’s guidance.

“One of the things that is the most important for us … is that we do not have a period of time where we are unaccredited,” she said. “To be unaccredited means we do not qualify for federal financial aid. We have approximately 60 percent of our students that receive some sort of form of federal financial aid. We will not abandon those students.”

Gene Engle, USF trustee and PCB, said during the meeting that USF will continue to collaborate with the Polytechnic campus if a split occurs.

“In my conversations with President Genshaft, assuming that the (BOG) takes the position that USF Poly shall become … independent, (USF) will continue to collaborate with us with all the processes that we need to go through,” he said. “Even after separation that USF will continue to be a big brother and big sister to us.”

Goodman said a timeline of when or how Polytechnic would separate from the USF system is undetermined.

“When I talked to (Genshaft), she informed me of when the USF Fort Myers (campus), which is now Florida Gulf Coast (University), was part of USF and became independent,” he said during the meeting. “I believe she told me that it was a five-year transition.”

Ten students, including Sage Stevens, attended the meeting to voice their opinions on the split – an opportunity he said many were concerned would never come.

Stevens, a senior majoring in general business, marketing and management, is a Student Government Association (SGA) senator at the Lakeland campus and said Goodman addressed members’ concerns on the initiative during their Senate meeting Friday.

“We got (Goodman) to commit that it was OK for us to approach (the BOG) with our opinion and ask for (student presence) at the Board of Governors meeting,” Stevens said. “Students (can also) voice their opinion two different times (during a town hall meeting) Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.”

The town hall meeting will be held in LTB 1104 and 1105.

He said Goodman also told the students they could distribute a student survey today, and the results would be shared with BOG members at the meeting, regardless of whether students were allowed to present.

Jeremiah Chapman, a senior majoring in marketing and management, said the USF brand is important to the Lakeland campus.

“I began attending USFP in the spring of 2010, and I, like many students, chose to attend USFP because of the location and the USF name brand,” he said during the PCB meeting. “The vast majority of students support USF and the USF brand … we see no reason in quitting the brand.”

Mary Kittrell, a senior majoring in counseling, said she will support any decision the BOG makes.

“I actually don’t care what kind of school it is. I like the school. I like the location. I like the teachers … I just want the degree,” she said. “I want it to be funded the way it’s supposed to be, accredited the way it’s supposed to be, and I want to move on with a really good career.”

Stevens said the Polytechnic Senate contacted USF Tampa student body president Matthew Diaz to discuss ways Tampa students could enter dialogue on the split.

“I just have to talk to my staff and see what we can do from there. Like what Dr. Genshaft said in her statement months ago. I stand firm behind that opinion,” said Diaz, a senior majoring in political science and philosophy. “This whole conversation about Polytechnic is still very new and very fresh.”

Polytechnic SGA President Kathryn Bevilacqua said she also will follow up with Diaz to create more communication between the two campuses.

“I will plan to go as student body president to speak to BOG, and whoever wants to go is welcomed to go,” she said. “I’m supposed to be the students’ voice. I think it was good for Dr. Goodman to discuss this with the students. The surveys are going to be emailed out to students today. Once the results get back … after Friday, I will analyze the results next weekend.”

USF Tampa spokesman Michael Hoad, who attended the meeting, said it is too early to tell how a split will impact other campuses.

“There’s no way to predict that,” he said. “The thing is that the issue obviously is none of us make the decision. So, the issue is to ensure that, no matter what the governance is, the students get the best option.”