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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

UF Pres says he'd be "willing to help" USF Poly's independence transition



We figured this was coming.

Just moments after the Florida Board of Governors voted to delay USF Polytechnic's bid to become its own institution earlier this month, the powerful state senator pushing for the split hinted that he might find "another sponsor" to take the Lakeland branch campus under its wing in the meantime.  And now we're hearing that University of Florida President Bernie Machen may be open to take on that role "if asked."

"I am supportive of Polytech becoming an independent university. This is, in part, because I do not endorse the branch-campus model of research universities," Machen said in a statement. "Several members of the BOG asked if UF would consider assisting in the transition to independence, and I said that, if asked, we would be willing to help."

A UF spokeswoman said she did not know which board members posed that question to Machen.

Sen. J.D. Alexander told the Ledger, of Lakeland, last week that giving USF Poly to UF would require a simple change of wording on the legislation that set the school up as a branch campus of USF. (That was after Alexander sent a scathing letter to the university system board last week blasting Genshaft's leadership, and calling on state leaders to investigate her.) So far, we haven't heard that Alexander has filed any such bill. It's worth noting that unlike other state universities, USF's system's branches are recognized as separate governing entities -- and separate line items in the state budget.

The big unanswered question is, why would UF want the school, anyway? Especially with all the work to come in making it a new university? Is Machen's assertion that he doesn't "endorse the branch-campus model of research universities" a good enough reason to take on a whole new campus 120 miles away?

In its much-watched meeting earlier this month, the state university system governing board set a number of benchmarks for USF Poly to meet before it can become an independent institution. They gave USF President Judy Genshaft the responsibility for making sure those conditions were met. Genshaft has now launched a USF web site dedicated to tracking those and has vowed her dedication to that cause.

Before that meeting, by the way, Machen was quoted in news stories saying he reviewed USF Poly's ambitious separation plan and found it sound. That 50-page-plus plan was the same one that USF administrators and several Board of Governors members criticized for being overly optimistic in enrollment growth and funding estimates.

Asked about it at the board meeting, Machen said those criticisms were marginal, and that the thrust of the USF Poly plan -- notably, its dedication to fields in science, technology, engineering and math -- was a good one.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 2:39pm]


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