Poly problem will persist

Last week’s Board of Governors (BOG) meeting was intended to resolve the USF Polytechnic issue, but its decision only complicated the matter.

Over the past few months, the Lakeland regional campus has been on the warpath to achieve independence from the USF System, a move that would put the school on shaky ground considering its recent grandiose spending and highly ambitious, not to mention unrealistic, business plan.

The BOG granted Polytechnic permission to seek independence, but it must satisfy a laundry list of prerequisites that will likely take years to complete.

Polytechnic has more to gain from staying with USF than the USF System has from keeping the campus. While losing Polytechnic wouldn’t be great for USF, there may come a time when the University decides it’s better off without it.

The BOG decision puts USF in an awkward position. Over the years, the USF System has put a lot of work into developing its youngest regional campus. It was rebranded USF Polytechnic in 2008 with the intent to give it more autonomy to accomplish its specialized goals, while still remaining an integral part of the USF System.

It remains to be seen how the campus and the System can maintain a working relationship in the years to come, when all the while, Polytechnic is doing everything in its power to jump ship as soon as possible.

Local businesses and campus administrators, who somehow see an economic benefit in having an unknown, independent university in Lakeland, championed the split, yet many students and faculty have no desire to part ways with USF.

Should the split eventually occur, it will be more like a messy divorce than a clean break. USF has always done its best to uphold its end of the relationship. Polytechnic, for its part, has demonstrated that it’s not ready for independence. Its accreditation has been suspended and it faces the threat of a financial audit.

At the BOG meeting, USF President Judy Genshaft pointed out that USF decided in June 2010 to allow Polytechnic to create 14 new degree programs of its own choosing, yet no proposals have been submitted. Polytechnic seems more concerned with appeasing local businesses than helping its students.

Polytechnic’s futuristic new campus, which remains unconstructed, was also meant to be the home of USF’s new College of Pharmacy, which welcomed its inaugural class this semester. Last year, the Florida Legislature approved $10 million to establish the program and $35 million to build the school

State Sen. J.D. Alexander, who has been a powerful advocate for Polytechnic’s independence since the start, added a stipulation that the pharmacy school be built at the new Lakeland campus, though the degree program would remain a part of USF Health and the Tampa campus.

It would now be foolish to build USF facilities on a still nonexistent campus that’s threatening secession, so pharmacy students may have to look elsewhere for dedicated facilities.

The BOG decision could have put an end to the issue once and for all with a definitive “yes” or “no” answer. But for now, it seems the Polytechnic train wreck will continue indefinitely.