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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

USF Poly student senators questions chancellor about possible split



Yesterday, Marshall Goodman got a warm reception to his presentation to USF Polytechnic board members about the school's potential independent future. The board of the Lakeland campus ended up taking a neutral stance on the possibility of splitting from the USF system, in lieu of several big questions that remain unanswered (notably, is this necessary, how much will this cost, and what about the school's accreditation?)

But today, Goodman, USF Poly's chancellor, was hammered with questions by members of the school's Student Government senate. The main concern: If the school splits off, will the students' degrees be worth anything?

Goodman says yes. He said USF President Judy Genshaft assured him that the students would remain USF students until they graduate. But the students were concerned about the time beyond that. What about when they go to get jobs years down the road, and the employer doesn't recognize or remember USF Polytechnic? Goodman suggested the students look to other colleges that evolved into different institutions --  such as New College, which was once also part of the USF system, or Florida Technological University, which became the University of Central Florida.

A couple students were also critical of the school's polytechnic creed Goodman has been touting -- which aims to offer more hands-on learning than other traditional liberal arts-heavy universities.

"I see nothing polytechnic about this school," said Sage Stevens, a student senator whose major is business. "I take classes in a room just like this, with desks and a white board." He said he has a few classes on the Tampa campus, too, which are just the same.

Goodman seemed surprised. "I can't speak for your individual situation," he said. "I know other business majors who are having that experience." He suggested the student speak to his academic adviser if he wasn't satisfied with the classes he's been able to get into.

It's that polytechnic vision that sets the campus apart from the other institutions in the state. That's what the Board of Governors will hear from Goodman at its meeting later this month, after receiving a letter from 30 Polk County business and civic leaders calling for the split this summer.

Is the school there yet? Of course not, Goodman said. "This is a dream." But there's room to grow, he told the students. Look at Silicon Valley. All that progress started with a dream, too.

"Okay, but there's a big difference between Polk County and Silicon Valley," said Sen. J.C. Chapman.

Goodman disagreed, pointing to hundreds of IT professionals in the area working for the Publix supermarket headquarters. He pointed to Orlando, "just 25 miles away," and the innovation happening there, at UCF. The talent, he said, is right in USF Polytech's backyard. The university will only enhance opportunities to harness it.

"We think we're changing the model of higher education," Goodman said. "We don't have a hidden agenda... We said it yesterday, and we meant it. The students come first. We are not going to abandon you."

The meeting ended with the students voting to put a survey out to the rest of the campus, asking why students chose USF Polytechnic (Location, small class size, USF brand or because its Polytechnic), and a plan to hold an open student forum on the issue next week. A few lingered in the hallway, seeming still unsure about the questions they'd raise.

A couple waited in the conference room to talk to Goodman, himself. Damon Dennis, the SG treasurer, asked Goodman flat-out: "Do you want to split?"

Goodman replied, "I will drive this train wherever the state wants me to drive it."

[Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 5:30pm]


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