BOT addresses possible Polytechnic separation

After an unscheduled conversation about USF Polytechnic broke out within the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, members made it clear that if the campus does separate from the USF System, they want reimbursement.

“USF will assist with the (potential) transition, as long as concurrent actions are taken to recognize USF’s contributions to higher education and to ensure protection of the balance of the USF System. Such action would include making the USF System whole with respect to expenses and its investments in USF Polytechnic … and ensuring that the facility and current Pharmacy funding is appropriately directed to USF Health,” said the BOT’s first official statement on the initiative, which was released after their Thursday meeting in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom.

The statement – which included that resources used in a transition will not be taken from any Florida public university, including USF – was discussed at the meeting after regional chancellors for the USF System provided the BOT with updates on their respective campuses and answered questions from members.

One question, from trustee Rhea Law, sparked heated discussions about the future of the Polytechnic campus.

“Is there anything you feel that the USF System has held you back from being able to do?” she asked the chancellors.

Regional Chancellor Margaret Sullivan of the St. Petersburg campus and Regional Vice Chancellor Bonnie Jones of the Sarasota-Manatee campus said the system has benefited their campuses. However, when it was time for Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman of the Polytechnic campus to answer the question, discussion turned to debate.

Goodman said the issue is that the State University System recognizes USF as one entity, so state money has to be divided among its regional campuses.

“We like to think of ourselves as the youngest and the smallest,” he said. “(Tampa) needs to keep growing. You have the St. Pete campus adding residence halls and raising their goals … and of course, with Sarasota achieving accreditation, you have a lot of mouths to feed.”

Though grateful that USF Polytechnic was the only Florida campus that did not lose Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funding for construction and maintenance projects for the current school year, Goodman also said the campus is “six miles from anything.”

“We know when students choose universities, they do choose brand,” he said. “Brand is important, but also feel and connection (are) important. We’re surrounded right now by cows and wetlands.”

Trustee Brian Lamb said during the meeting that Goodman was aware of these issues when he became Polytechnic’s regional chancellor in 2006 and that his points are not “new information.”

“You knew that when you signed up for it,” he said to Goodman, “and you knew some of the things that you’re talking about around our system and our structure.”

USF Tampa student body President and trustee Matt Diaz said during the meeting that he has heard “outcry” from Polytechnic students afraid of losing the USF brand.

“It’s important to have that identity for our regional campuses but it’s imperative to keep that brand,” he said during the meeting. “It allows our students to go out of state and have something that’s powerful.”

Goodman said he has reassured students that their degrees will remain accredited if the campus separates from the USF System. He also said he was informed, in a recent conversation with advertisers, that the most important brand was being a Florida university and a polytechnic school.

Yet, trustee Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising, said during the meeting that it takes years and money to build a brand.

“I believe that underneath this (USF) brand, Polytechnic will be a shining star much quicker than having to develop their own brand. And if anyone knows brands, I know brands, and how to activate brands and how important they are,” he said. “If it was that easy, other brands would separate and create sub-brands, but the cost of creating sub-brands is so great that they don’t do it.”

The idea has gained support from Polk County leaders. Community members sent a letter to Board of Governors (BOG) Chairwoman Ava Parker in July, citing the economic benefits of making USF Polytechnic its own university. Goodman presented more potential benefits during the BOG’s September meeting, but all BOG members agreed that they needed more information before making a decision at their next meeting, Nov. 9 and 10 at Florida Atlantic University.

The BOT only had time for about an hour of discussion on the fate of the Polytechnic campus, yet BOT Chairman John Ramil told Goodman there are obvious frustrations.

“Not that long ago, you stood right there convincing us that we needed to make a polytech(nic) as part of our system, and everyone is surprised to hear that, all of a sudden, it doesn’t fit in the system,” he said. “There is a lot of confusion on that very, very point.”