BARTOW — With the bill to create Florida's 12th university still awaiting delivery to the governor's office for final approval or veto, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft found herself fielding questions Monday about the plan's specifics.
It's a plan she didn't want or put together. But at a Tiger Bay meeting in Polk County — with the project's crusader, Senate budget chairman JD Alexander, in the audience — Genshaft was in the hot seat.
People wanted to know if USF would maintain a presence in Polk County. They wondered how the new Florida Polytechnic University would gain accreditation and how long it would take. They asked about the advantages of splitting the school off right away, rather than following a longer path laid out by the Florida Board of Governors.
"Well you know," Genshaft said. "There is a lot to be worked out."
While USF is proud to be in Polk County, creating branch campuses is up to the Board of Governors, Genshaft said.
As for accreditation questions, Genshaft said gaining separate accreditation under USF's umbrella was expected to take about a year to a year and a half. If SB 1994 goes through and the Lakeland branch campus splits off right away, gaining accreditation from scratch could take three to five years.
So why is the second path a better one?
Genshaft didn't answer directly. She did name one advantage to the bill approved by the House and Senate last week: that "no students would be hurt." An earlier version did not include funding for all of the Poly students, faculty and staff that USF would need to absorb in a split. But now, USF will get a recurring $10 million to cover those costs.
Someone asked how long USF would get that money.
Genshaft didn't know. USF Poly interim regional chancellor David Touchton didn't, either.
Someone in the audience did — the man who fought USF for months on the issue.
"You want me to answer?" asked Alexander from his seat.
"Yes sir," said the moderator.
Alexander walked to the front of the room and took the microphone.
As part of the budget, that $10 million is now written into state statute, Alexander said, "as soon as the governor signs the bill.
"That's about as permanent as you can get."
It is expected to take five years for all of the current and newly enrolled students to complete their degrees, he said, but that money would not go away unless a future Legislature removes it.
Due to term limits, the session that wrapped up Friday was Alexander's last. Alexander returned to his seat.
Genshaft thanked him for clearing things up.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or 813-226-3337.