USF Polytechnic was granted permission to seek independence, but the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) made it clear during its meeting Wednesday in Boca Raton that it will not happen overnight.
During a heated five-hour discussion among BOG members, state senators and USF officials, BOG member Norman Tripp finally made a motion stating Polytechnic must complete a list of criteria before becoming independent.
Tripp motioned for the following:
• Achieve separate accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) while Polytechnic develops new programs from Phase I of its business plan.
• Implement the programs identified in Phase I upon SACS’ approval, with highest priority for programs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
• Attain a minimum full-time equivalent, which measures employed people or students’ workload, of 1,244 as calculated in the business plan, with a minimum 50 percent of that in STEM and 20 percent in STEM-related programs.
• Have the following facilities and infrastructure in place: the Science and Technology Building, Phase I of the Wellness Center, a 120-bed residence hall and a 70-bed modular resident hall.
• Provide financial aid, admissions, student support, information technology and finance and accounting with an internal audit function.
• Give USF Polytechnic students the option to graduate with a diploma from USF, subject to University criteria.
• Have the BOG monitor the development of the campus and its operations during its transition to independence.
• Consult the BOG of any significant change to the business plan before making any changes.
When the conditions are met, the final approval will be sent back to the BOG for review. Polytechnic will remain under USF governance until then.
During the meeting, it was evident more opposed the split than supported it.
USF President Judy Genshaft said during the meeting she is a “regionalist.”
“As you all know, I have always believed in and fought for our region. I am a regionalist and our region includes Polk County,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many different constituencies and residents from Polk County, from students, to business people, to educators, to elected officials, have said to me, ‘We need the University of South Florida. Please stay in our community.'”
Tripp said there will always be opposition, regardless of when independence occurs.
“There’s no perfect time, and if you bring this issue up in 10 years, I guarantee you there will still be two sides to the issue,” he said. “Some faculty will like it. Some faculty won’t like it. Some students will like it. Some students won’t like it, because that’s the nature of what we are doing. The idea that this may be small and not grow does not bother me.”
Among the members, 13 voted for the motion and three opposed: BOG members Patricia Frost, John Temple and student representative Michael Long.
Most of the supporters agreed that Florida needed a Polytechnic school to support STEM programs, but USF Polytechnic needed more time to grow.
Long, student body president of New College, said he did not feel represented by state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has supported the split since the summer.
“I’ve met with pretty much everyone involved with this issue,” he said. “When I met with J.D. Alexander, I had one very important question for him: ‘What happens if this doesn’t go through?’ He told me a story about an issue he had earlier in his career in the Legislature where he couldn’t find support for an issue he was trying to push and he said he quit working for higher education … That being said, I think I speak for all of the students here today when I say I do not feel very well represented by J.D. and his comments.”
Long said another student survey at Polytechnic was conducted where 61.9 percent of respondents opposed the split. He said he spoke to high school students who felt the same way.
Frost said she’s in support of the idea, but wanted to delay a decision for at least two years.
“I don’t think I am, at this time, in a position to vote on A, B, C or D, when we don’t have the faculty, we don’t really have the students, we don’t have the money, we don’t have the buildings, although the location is perfect,” she said.
Temple said Chancellor Marshall Goodman is “incompetent” for not communicating better with Genshaft.
“In my opinion, it is out of control,” he said.
Another motion was passed to not accept another application for independence for five years following Polytechnic’s independence, a motion Genshaft supported.
“We can’t have this kind of turmoil again,” she said. “I just wanted to speak in favor of this motion. It’s just too disruptive. This past month, from the last time you had a BOG meeting to this time, just the Tampa campus alone has spent well over 1,000 hours on this issue.”
University spokesman Michael Hoad said in an email to The Oracle that Genshaft was pleased with both motions.
“It reaffirmed USF’s plans for separate accreditation under the USF umbrella and then the opportunity for the campus to be all it can be,” he said.
Goodman issued a statement following the meeting: “We believe the BOG made a sound and appropriate decision that will allow the institution to better fulfill the polytechnic mission for the state of Florida. We are committed to building a strong and innovative polytechnic and will continue to work to make this happen.”