With two state senators calling for a financial audit of USF Polytechnic, USF President Judy Genshaft and USF Tampa Student Government (SG) members have responded for the first time to the campus’ ongoing developments.
Genshaft said by letter Tuesday that it was not within her power to grant the senators’ financial audit request. However, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said they will brainstorm to ensure the audit happens.
On Thursday, Dockery and Fasano sent the original audit request following USF Polytechnic spending $140,000 in private funds for a YouTube video promoting its new campus plans and $500,000 in state funds for a documentary on its construction.
Genshaft said in her response letter to Dockery and Fasano that, according to a state statute, the Lakeland campus is “operated and maintained as a separate organizational and budget entity” within USF.
In the letter, Genshaft stated she will work with both senators on “any initiative that could help increase state universities’ Board of Trustees’ oversight authority for state finances provided in their institutions.”
In an interview with The Oracle, Fasano said he and Dockery will spend the next couple of days deciding how to ensure the audit occurs.
“We are weighing our options,” he said. “We may (contact Poly ourselves). I don’t know. The one thing I don’t want is to have an audit conducted internally by USF (Polytechnic) because that would be like having the wolf guarding the hen house.”
Dockery said in an interview with The Oracle that, although past audits have been made, they were basic.
“They don’t delve into each individual expenditure,” she said. “They just look for compliance with statutes or for whatever purpose the audit has (been) done, maybe for accreditation. So what we wanted was a really thorough examination of all public money and how (it was) spent, and if it was a good use of public money.”
In July, Polk County leaders sent a letter to State University System Board of Governors (BOG) chairwoman Ava Parker on the economic benefits of splitting Polytechnic from the USF System. BOG members discussed the initiative during their September meeting and will make a decision in their November meeting.
With the construction of the new campus not completed, the necessary hiring of new professors and not knowing how many students will remain with the Lakeland campus, Dockery said Poly independence is “incredibly premature.”
“It’s (like) a baby,” she said. “If you’re the parents of a child, you nurture that child, you raise that child and when that child turns into a young adult, the child goes out on its own. With the (Polytechnic) campus, you don’t even have a baby yet. You have a pregnant mother. You have to raise it and allow it to grow and get accredited. So the entire move for independence seems to be predicated on a chancellor who is pushing for it and a state senator who wants to get it done before he leaves office in 13 months.
“Prior to this very abrupt request for independence, this county was very united in its desire to have a very successful USF (Polytechnic) campus,” she said. “Everybody came together, working together to make this happen.” According to Polytechnic’s business plan – released Monday night by Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman – if the university were to become independent, it would allow a period of time for students to receive a degree under USF or with the new campus. The plan also stated that Florida needs to produce more STEM-qualified workers, and will be presented at the Nov. 9-10 BOG meeting.
During Tuesday’s USF Tampa SG Senate meeting, members unanimously passed a resolution to oppose the possible separation of the USF Polytechnic campus.
The resolution, titled ‘In Opposition to the Disjunction of the USF Polytechnic Campus,’ stated, “the senate holds it to be true that the USF Polytechnic campus is a vital member of the USF System and a contributor to its success … (and) that the student body stands in strong opposition to the disjunction of the USF Polytechnic campus.”
Polytechnic Student Government Association President Kathryn Bevilacqua said in an email to The Oracle that students at the Lakeland campus still disagree with the initiative.
“(They) have been made aware of the section of the business plan that affects the students, should there be a transition,” she said. “I feel (the plan) is fair and equitable to the current students.”
Student body president Matt Diaz said during the meeting that he is working to fund buses for senators to attend the November BOG meeting, to support Polytechnic students who oppose the initiative.
“USF is no longer a state brand,” he said. “It’s a national brand. If you go to New York, who’s going to know what (Florida Polytechnic) is? That brand is important. It’s a credible brand. They’re happy to be Bulls. They don’t want to be anything else.”
USF Polytechnic spokeswoman Samantha Lane could not be reached for comment.