MAKE OR BREAK

This week, Univer­sity of South Florida trustees take over plans for con­sol­i­da­tion and the de­ci­sion on how to treat each cam­pus.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY ME­GAN REEVES Times Staff Writer

AST. PETERS­BURG fter months of brain­storm­ing, a com­plex ef­fort to con­sol­i­date the Univer­sity of South Florida sys­tem into one univer­sity en­ters a new phase this week.

The USF board of trustees will take the reins of a process that has been un­der way since the fall as fac­ulty, staff and civic lead­ers across the three USF cam­puses hashed out ideas in dozens of meet­ings. At is­sue are de­tails large and small, from the in­ner work­ings of de­part­ments, to cam­pus cul­ture to who will be in charge of what.

That last one will loom large as the trustees be­gin their work.

Ac­cred­i­ta­tion rules say one site must be des­ig­nated as the main cam­pus, which many have sug­gested should be USF Tampa. The oth­ers can take on one of two ti­tles with vastly dif­fer­ent mean­ings.

If des­ig­nated as “branch” cam­puses, USF St. Peters­burg and USF Sara­sota-Mana­tee would re­tain high lev­els of au­ton­omy. The cam­puses would keep strong lead­ers in place who would con­tinue to have dis­cre­tion over hir­ing, spend­ing and cur­ricu­lum, ac­cord­ing to ac­cred­i­ta­tion rules.

How­ever, many in the USF com­mu­nity fear the two smaller cam­puses could be­come “in­struc­tional sites” in­stead. That des­ig­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to lead­ers at both in­sti­tu­tions, would strip them of the in­de­pen­dence that has helped them thrive.

While a de­ci­sion on USF’s struc­ture won’t be fi­nal un­til March 2020, when trustees sub­mit a plan to the re­gion’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion agency, con­ver­sa­tions on the topic could be­gin any time, ac­cord­ing to USF spokesman Adam Free­man.

They’ll be guided by a series of rec­om­men­da­tions from mul­ti­ple groups: A 13-mem­ber task force, an 86-mem­ber com­mit­tee and most re­cently, teams of fac­ulty mem­bers across the three cam­puses who fin­ished their work on Fri­day.

Some of the ef­forts were guided by Huron, a con­sult­ing com­pany that sub­mit­ted a re­port to trustees in De­cem-

ber, and in­spired by pub­lic in­put gath­ered through town hall meet­ings, Free­man said.

None of the groups has ex­plic­itly rec­om­mended the in­struc­tional site model, but task force leader Mike Grif­fin said he has “come into con­tact with peo­ple” who fa­vor it. He de­clined to name them.

Mean­while, oth­ers like him feel strongly that the branch cam­pus op­tion is the best way to en­sure suc­cess for a con­sol­i­dated USF.

“The branch cam­pus des­ig­na­tion is a re­ally big deal,” said Grif­fin, a lo­cal busi­ness­man and USF St. Peters­burg grad­u­ate. “It’s about main­tain­ing the unique iden­tify of each cam­pus. … We re­ally be­lieve that is the right path for­ward.”

To be con­sid­ered as such un­der ac­cred­i­ta­tion rules, USF St. Peters­burg and USF Sara­so­taMana­tee would have to be per­ma­nent, of­fer course pro­grams that lead to a de­gree, have their own fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tion, and main­tain author­ity over bud­gets and hir­ing.

Other­wise, the cam­puses would de­fault to in­struc­tional sites.

Grif­fin will make the case for the branch cam­pus struc­ture on Tues­day, when he is set to present the task force re­port to a com­mit­tee of trustees over­see­ing con­sol­i­da­tion.

The doc­u­ment as­serts that keep­ing strong lead­er­ship and pro­grams on USF’s smaller cam­puses would boost ser­vices for stu­dents while en­sur­ing each lo­ca­tion can main­tain re­la­tion­ships with their com­mu­ni­ties and at­tract qual­ity fac­ulty.

“No one would be in a world where they are able to go rogue, but you can still have that or­ganic, up­ward gov­er­nance struc­ture,” Grif­fin added in an in­ter­view. “We have to be thought­ful about how the des­ig­na­tion can el­e­vate re­search, stu­dent grad­u­a­tion, higher pay­ing jobs and phil­an­thropic op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

USF St. Peters­burg fac­ulty sen­ate pres­i­dent Ray Arse­nault, who served on one of the teams that made con­sol­i­da­tion rec­om­men­da­tions, has made sim­i­lar points to univer­sity lead­ers in re­cent months.

He ex­pressed frus­tra­tion dur­ing a re­cent cam­pus board meet­ing, warn­ing lead­ers it would be dif­fi­cult to at­tract high-level pro­fes­sors and re­searchers to the USF St. Peters­burg cam­pus if it be­comes an in­struc­tional site with lit­tle author­ity over cur­ricu­lum.

“If you talk to the stu­dents and the fac­ulty, they love this cam­pus in a way that I don’t think is com­mon,” said Arse­nault, a his­to­rian at USF St. Peters­burg for 39 years. “We have a face-to-face, flesh-and-blood cul­ture, and many of the fac­ulty feel that is in dan­ger.”

State Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Har­bor Repub­li­can who led the ef­fort to pass the leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing the con­sol­i­da­tion, said he never en­vi­sioned the process tak­ing any­thing away from USF’s St. Peters­burg and Sara­sota-Mana­tee cam­puses. He said he will “fully sup­port” the task force rec­om­men­da­tion for branch cam­puses.

“Cer­tainty, the leg­is­la­tion an­tic­i­pated hav­ing one strong USF, but with the real­iza­tion that there would be two strong branch cam­pus en­ti­ties,” Sprowls said. “We want to make sure the unique iden­tity of each is main­tained.”

State Sen. Bill Gal­vano, R-Mana­tee, re­cently tweeted a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment, prais­ing Grif­fin’s work cre­at­ing a “road map for con­sol­i­da­tion that will ben­e­fit the Sara­sota com­mu­nity.”

The next ma­jor con­sol­i­da­tion dead­line is March 15, when a re­port by trustees is due to the State Univer­sity Sys­tem’s Board of Gover­nors. While it won’t have de­tails re­lated to or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture, it must in­clude a time­line for the rest of the con­sol­i­da­tion process.

USF pres­i­dent Judy Gen­shaft is ex­pected to share de­tails about next steps at the meet­ing Tues­day, fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion by Grif­fin, who says he doesn’t plan to budge on his stance for branch cam­puses.

“We didn’t spend nine or 10 months on some­thing that doesn’t get im­ple­mented,” Grif­fin said, point­ing to the suc­cess USF’s three cam­puses have had in re­cent years while op­er­at­ing with in­de­pen­dence.

“When you see and truly feel and wit­ness the up­side and the po­ten­tial here, it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult not to, first be ex­cited, and sec­ond, to work to cre­ate paths for it to con­tinue.” Con­tact Me­gan Reeves at [email protected] tam­pabay.com. Fol­low @ma­reevs.

CHRIS URSO | Times

The Univer­sity of South Florida board of trustees will de­cide if the St. Peters­burg cam­pus, above, and the Sara­sota-Mana­tee cam­pus will be treated as “branch” cam­puses with a high de­gree of au­ton­omy or as “in­struc­tional sites.”

de­trac­tors fear des­ig­nat­ing the USF St. Peters­burg cam­pus as an in­struc­tional site with lit­tle author­ity over cur­ricu­lum will make it dif­fi­cult to at­tract top pro­fes­sors.

CHRIS URSO | Times

USF pres­i­dent Judy Gen­shaft is ex­pected to share de­tails about the next steps to­ward con­sol­i­da­tion at a meet­ing of a com­mit­tee of trustees on Tues­day.

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