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Concerns mount over USF Poly plan for split

TAMPA — The University of South Florida says its Lakeland campus is overstating its available assets by $62 million and making a promise it may not be able to keep — that students could transfer to another USF institution in the wake of a split.

Those were among several concerns outlined in a new critique of USF Polytechnic's secession plan, added to the two dozen concerns outlined last week about optimistic growth projections and unclear cost explanations.

While USF president Judy Genshaft has remained notably silent in the independence debate the past few months, staff from her academic affairs and student success departments have been busy poking holes in USF Poly's proposal.

• "Unfortunately, many USF Polytechnic students may not meet USF's admission criteria," administrators write of USF Poly's plan to give students a "one-time only" opportunity to transfer.

• The plan states that the branch campus has $77.4 million in assets. But a breakdown by USF shows that only $14.5 million in cash and investments on hand could be used for new initiatives.

• The campus says it may hold classes in "modular facilities," or trailers, for at least a decade — and possibly up to 20 years — while its new campus is under construction. "This does not give the impression of a 'destination campus,' " the USF review states.

• The plan says the new university would want to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but it doesn't say which sports it wants or how much that would cost.

• The school says having "talent management agents" in the place of advisers will help recruit and retain students. But USF's review casts doubt on the role of these employees.

• One page of the plan says there is "sufficient funding in place to start the new Polytechnic university and continue its growth through 2016." Yet, a few pages later, USF Poly states that it will need millions of dollars to continue growing past 2017.

"USF is pointing out exactly what many of us have been saying all along," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "And that is USF Poly Tech will cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years if it is allowed to break away."

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, asked USF to look over the 50-page-plus plan again this week after receiving a fifth revised version. The board will consider USF Polytechnic's bid to become the state's 12th university at a meeting next week.

After USF's first critical review of the plan last week, branch campus leader Marshall Goodman released a response to the board, assuring that the assertions in the secession road map are sound.

Victor Story, a Polk County citrus farmer and supporter of the proposed split, agreed Thursday. He said he believes there is enough money to get a new university off the ground.

"I think that an independent university would be a great benefit to both counties and Central Florida," the 66-year-old said.

Any investment into a separate USF Poly will pay off in the long run, Story said, and there's more value in a separate university than continuing as a branch campus.

Fasano, however, said it's time for USF Poly to "close the book" on the effort to split away.

"Polytech is not telling the truth," he said. "They're not laying all their cards on the table. … The dollars aren't there. The students aren't there."

Also Thursday, the USF faculty council sent a letter to the Board of Governors concerned that faculty were not involved in the decision to break away.

Time staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Concerns mount over USF Poly plan for split 11/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2011 12:36am]

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