Bill could create independent Polytechnic by end of year

A bill proposed Wednesday could grant USF Polytechnic’s campus independence by the end of the year, despite the compromise reached by the Board of Governors (BOG) after much battling. According to the Lakeland Ledger, the Florida Senate bill was put forth by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormand Beach, with help from Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has vocally pushed for an independent Polytechnic and voiced his discontent with the BOG.

The bill would allow the creation of an independent state university, renaming USF Polytechnic “Florida Polytechnic University,” by the end of the year. The BOG voted in November to grant USF Polytechnic conditional independence from the USF System after meeting certain benchmarks, including independent accreditation and enrollment increases. The process was expected to take between three to five years.

Yet according to the Tampa Bay Times, the new university would retain “property, licenses, associated revenues, contracts, balances, appropriations, foundation money and other funds from USF,” but sever all ties with USF and be under the wing of the University of Florida.

After the separation, the bill would allow students accepted to Polytechnic while it was part of the USF System to graduate with a USF degree.

In November, Alexander, who will leave office after this legislative session due to term limits, proposed moving the branch campus under UF’s umbrella because of the “lack of cooperation” he perceived from USF.

At the time, UF President Bernie Machen said he would be willing to help support the campus in its quest for independence.

After the November vote that granted independence, the BOG and the USF Board of Trustees set up independent committees to oversee the transition to independence, and USF President Judy Genshaft pledged USF’s commitment to helping the branch campus separate at a committee meeting last month.

Genshaft came under heavy criticism from Alexander, as well as BOG leaders, after terminating former Polytechnic Regional Chancellor Marshall Goodman from his administrative role in December. Genshaft appointed David Touchton as interim chancellor and the search for a permanent chancellor is expected to be complete within the next few months.

In a letter sent out Wednesday to the USF community at large, Genshaft reinforced USF’s commitment to the BOG’s decision.

“Dear Friends,” she wrote. “On Nov. 9, the Florida Board of Governors established a path to independence for USF Polytechnic – a series of benchmarks based on achieving certain criteria. As USF Polytechnic moves down this path, the USF System will work aggressively to meet these benchmarks. Progress toward the BOG benchmarks has begun and is publicly tracked on the USF System website.”

According to the Times, Lynn said the bill was proposed because the BOG timeline appeared to take “too long.”

In a January interview with The Oracle, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said the decision to let Polytechnic separate from the system was a political one.

“Let’s be clear,” she said. “The BOG decision was not based on sound education policy. It was based on political implications. In 10 months, when certain players are term-limited out of the Legislature, more thorough thinking will prevail.”

USF Spokesman Michael Hoad said it was too early to estimate the ramifications of the bill, but that USF would continue to operate under the BOG’s guidelines.