Wednesday, April 25, 2018

USF President Genshaft sees “significant benefits” in consolidation proposal

University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft offered her first public support this week for a controversial proposal to phase out the independence of USF's two regional institutions.

After days of walking a neutral line on the idea, Genshaft sent an email to USF leaders Tuesday evening that said USF has long found strength in unity.

"It is still early, but we believe there is the potential for significant benefits to our students," she wrote."Benefits like enhancing the reputation of the entire USF System and having all students graduate from a preeminent research university, or helping students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors including those in health care and engineering. Or the benefits of graduate research and PhD opportunities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee."

The proposal, crafted by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, would phase out the prized separate accreditation at USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee and bring those schools under Tampa control as one united university. The provision is part of a large higher education package working its way through the Florida House.

Some proponents of the regional institutions say returning to this centralized system will erode the schools' hard-earned autonomy. Wary of lawmakers' and Tampa leaders' intentions, they say the idea amounts to a power grab.

Read more: In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

Sprowls says the bill will benefit regional institutions, which would otherwise be cut off from millions in bonus "preeminence" funding that the Tampa campus will receive for its performance. He has said a rising tide lifts all boats.

In her email, Genshaft echoed some of Sprowls' other talking points. The change would bring USF in line with the state's other universities, none of which have separately accredited institutions. Still, she conceded that concerns remain.

"This is an important issue that many members of the USF community feel strongly about – on both sides," Genshaft wrote.

USF has started a series of "community conversations" about how the university would manage a potential consolidation. Hosting those talks are Trustees Stephanie Goforth and Byron Shinn, leaders of campus boards at  St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, respectively. They will be joined by USF senior staff.

"Through these community conversations we believe even more benefits to our students and the Tampa Bay Area will emerge as we begin to develop a vision for the future," Genshaft wrote. In the end, she said, "we will unite behind a common vision."

Here is Genshaft's email in full:

At the University of South Florida, one of our most important guiding principles is our unity. That was true when we were founded in 1956 and is true today. It's our ability to bring together diverse populations, diverse viewpoints, and diverse ideas that makes us stronger. It is true no matter where our students take their courses — be that in St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee, Tampa or around the world.

A bill currently moving through the Florida Legislature could enhance that unity by bringing all three of our institutions together under one accreditation umbrella which is more in line with others in the Florida State University System. This is an important issue that many members of the USF community feel strongly about – on both sides.

We have begun a series of community conversations about what might happen should this legislation become law and how we will manage that process. These conversations are being led by Trustees Stephanie Goforth and Byron Shinn, the leaders of our Campus Boards at USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, respectively, and senior staff within the USF System.

It is still early, but we believe there is the potential for significant benefits to our students. Benefits like enhancing the reputation of the entire USF System and having all students graduate from a preeminent research university, or helping students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors including those in health care and engineering. Or the benefits of graduate research and PhD opportunities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.

Through these community conversations we believe even more benefits to our students and the Tampa Bay Area will emerge as we begin to develop a vision for the future. Informed by diverse members of the community, by our students, faculty and staff, as well as key members of the Florida Legislature, we will examine the opportunities and challenges of a unified system and together, we will unite behind a common vision. A vision to make a difference in this world.

Thank you for your support and Go Bulls!

Judy Genshaft
USF System President

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