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Preeminence status could be in jeopardy as the university moves closer toward consolidation

USF must meet 11 of 12 benchmarks to maintain preeminence. ORACLE FILE PHOTO. 

The Board of Trustees (BOT) on Tuesday approved its consolidation implementation plan, giving "branch campus" designations — and more autonomy — to USF St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee and possibly putting the university's preeminence status in jeopardy, at least in the short term.

The plan and timeline will be submitted to the Board of Governors (BOG) on March 15 for approval by the Legislature and governor. If approved, USF will be one step closer to becoming a singly-accredited university by July 2020.

Against the apparent wishes of Tampa’s Faculty Senate, consolidation could move forward with the branch campus designations — with St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee able to hire and lead as they see fit under the system president — instead of the instructional site option, which would have put all the power in Tampa.

However, even with almost a year’s worth of configuration, some trustees are saying the work is just getting started due to the differing opinions on how to maintain the university’s preeminence status under the branch campus construct.  

With only USF Tampa able to meet the benchmark requirements for preeminence, students and faculty are questioning how USF’s status will be affected post-consolidation.

In order to maintain preeminence, USF must meet 11 of 12 “academic and research excellence standards” on an annual basis. USF does not meet the $500 million endowment requirement, which leaves little room for error.

The USF endowment currently has $480 million and has the potential to increase based on “market performance,” but nothing is guaranteed.  

No data exists yet, but the BOT projects that USF will be “most high-risk” in performance-based benchmarks after consolidation. Some of these include a drop in the weighted grade-point average of 4.0, an average SAT score of 1200, a freshman retention rate of 90 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 60 percent.

According to the implementation plan, the BOT expects the other seven standards to improve after consolidation. However, if USF drops in graduation and retention rates, the chances of earning preeminence will be slim.

In finalizing the consolidation plan, trustee Hal Mullis said a $20 million legislative budget request will be sent to the BOG. The request includes hiring 100 faculty members and increasing research capabilities to minimize the risk of losing preeminence.

“It is very important to the process of consolidation that this be approved by the Legislature and the governor,” Mullis said.

BOT members are also aware that faculty members are concerned about preeminence.

The USF Tampa Faculty Senate drafted a letter stating that using metrics from all three campuses would be “highly implausible.”

Trustee John Ramil said he believes the concerns of the  Tampa Faculty Senate ties in with the concerns of maintaining a campus identity.

“A few days ago, we received a letter from the Tampa Faculty Senate and when I read that, more than anything, I see that they are concerned about the culture,” Ramil said. “They are worried about maintaining metrics that they are achieving. I think this is a huge measure of our cultural advancement — upholding a metric and wanting to be accountable.”

Aside from the pending preeminence status, the BOT has to make a decision about how reporting to authority will be made clear within the next year.

Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine asked Regional Chancellor of the St. Pete campus Martin Tadlock how administration has been engaged with student leadership across the three campuses throughout the consolidation process.  

“One of the first things we did when we started this process was talk to students (at Sarasota-Manatee) and hear what they had to say,” Tadlock said. “One thing that was very clear was that they were looking for enhanced opportunities after consolidation such as more programs that don’t exist on all campuses.

“Any type of administrative structure that is implemented is meant to help students get access and be successful.”

Since USF will be unique in the fact that it is geographically disbursed, President Judy Genshaft finished the discussion by saying that the consolidation process does not mean each campus has to be alike.

“We don’t need a cookie-cutter structure to be set up, we’ll find our own,” Gehshaft said. “The more identity differentiation on each of the branch campuses, the better.

“In order to collaborate, we do have to not be so individualistic that we can’t work together.”