Most of the University of South Florida's work planning its mandated consolidation has been done by consultants and committees appointed by the Board of Trustees.
But come January, trustees themselves will step in to "get closer to the action," Chairman Brian Lamb said at a meeting Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
That's earlier than originally planned. But it will better equip USF officials to approve final recommendations committee members will bring to them in March, he said.
"It's all about learning and making sure we have a good, deep understanding so that when it comes time to make decisions we are better prepared," the chairman added in a later interview. "We want to make sure we are not too far behind."
Lamb will work with others to develop an agenda for the meeting after the New Year, where officials will discuss three-to-five "critical items" related to consolidation, he said.
What those topics are remains to be decided by Lamb and three others: Dr. Jonathan Ellen, chairman of USF's consolidation task force; trustee Harold Mullis, chairman of the USF's consolidation, accreditation and preeminence committee; and Peter Stokes, managing director of USF-hired consulting group Huron.
"They are a little further down the curve and best-positioned to come up with those critical items," Lamb said, adding praise of the work the men have completed so far.
At the meeting Tuesday, Ellen told trustees that the task force is operating off "high-level general principals" that will be more honed in on by Feb. 15, when he reports back to the board.
So far, most ideas from his group are general: "Strengthen community engagement," for example.
But as Stokes pointed out in a presentation following Ellen, it isn't the main function of the task force to figure out the nuts and bolts of consolidation.
Its charge is to "engage deeply with the community," which members have done through listening sessions on each of USF's campuses, he said.
Trustee Byron Shinn, a member of the task force and chairman of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus board, said digesting such a large amount of varying information has been difficult. He welcomed Lamb's idea of a January meeting.
"The depth and breadth of some of the issues that are bubbling up are quite advanced," he said, adding that those at USF's smaller campuses in Sarasota and St. Petersburg are anxious about how consolidation will affect them.
That's why trustees need to "get under the hood" of consolidation plans as soon as possible, Lamb told his fellow officials. "Ultimately, it's going to sit in front of each of you."
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.